'Game changer': How Trump's endorsement could play a major role in governor’s race after delegates didn’t endorse
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Wisconsin's governor race got a lot more complicated over the weekend after the Republican party opted to not endorse any of the four candidates competing to run against Gov. Tony Evers this fall.
Delegates at the Republican state convention decided not to endorse in the governor's race, but one key endorsement still up for grabs is from former President Donald Trump.
Sources tell CBS 58 Trump could endorse "soon" in Wisconsin's gubernatorial race as all four Republican candidates are trying to associate themselves with Trump to gain his support.
Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels and State Rep. Tim Ramthun have all traveled to Mar-a-Lago asking for Trump's blessing. Kevin Nicholson is the only candidate in the race who has not met with the former president.
"If Donald Trump endorses one of these candidates in the next few weeks, it's a game changer," said Republican strategist Bill McCoshen.
Trump has been silent on the governor's race, but he remains a prominent figure in Wisconsin politics. He's become fond of Michael Gableman and his taxpayer-funded investigation looking into the 2020 presidential election, which Trump falsely claims was stolen from him.
In a recent report to state lawmakers, Gableman suggested the 2020 election could be decertified despite legal experts, including a former Trump attorney, saying it's not possible.
While Trump is not on the ballot, UW-Madison Political Science Professor Barry Burden said his influence could shake up the governor's race and help sway undecided voters.
"It would be a good signal for activists and donors to coordinate around someone, particularly for those who are not enamored to Rebecca Kleefisch, and are looking for something different," Burden said. "[Trump] can help differentiate that pack."
If Trump endorses, it could bring a financial boost to the candidate of his choice and potentially lead to a trip by the former president to campaign in the battleground state.
"He's still the leader of the party," said Burden. "I think it provides an opportunity for Trump to be really influential and his endorsement comes with other things."
A Trump endorsement is more meaningful in this governor's race after none of the Republican candidates received enough votes at the convention to unlock fundraising and other resources from the state party.
It forces some candidates to work overtime to compete with newcomer Tim Michels in the race, a millionaire business construction owner who is largely self-funding his campaign.
"Money matters and not getting the endorsement will cut off some funding for Kleefisch," McCoshen said. "Tony Evers has $10 million plus in the bank, but Michels can compete with that. Can the other candidates compete going forward? That remains to be seen."
After falling short of the 60 percent needed to win the party's endorsement, Kleefisch said she doesn't anticipate it impacting her fundraising efforts.
Nicholson, who petitioned against the party's endorsement, has the financial backing from a group funded by one of the most powerful conservative donors Dick Uihlein.