How Tim Michels overcame voting trends in Wisconsin's primary, an expert weighs in
MADISON Wis. (CBS 58) -- Gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels did not win in the metropolitan Milwaukee area, but he won big in the rest of the state.
Construction executive Tim Michels will face off against incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers this fall. He was able to overcome a voting trend in Wisconsin politics that's been crucial to helping candidates prevail in competitive GOP primaries.
Historically, the path to victory in these primaries runs through the Milwaukee suburbs or the WOW counties: Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington.
But the Michels campaign changed that Tuesday.
Michels top primary opponent, former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, beat him by five points in Waukesha and Ozaukee Counties, but Michels won by nine points in Washington County.
That's in comparison to the 2018 U.S. Senate primary where GOP candidate Leah Vukmir won by 37 points in Waukesha over her opponent Kevin Nicholson. During the 2016 presidential primary, Senator Ted Cruz won by 39 points in Waukesha over Donald Trump.
In short, Kleefisch simply wasn't able to hit key voting margins to win against Michels who performed especially well in rural Wisconsin and ultimately defeated Kleefisch in every region of Wisconsin.
Anthony Chergosky, assistant professor of political science at UW-La Crosse, said it might be a sign that the Republican base in Wisconsin is shifting.
"It makes you wonder if the balance of power geographically in the Republican Party of Wisconsin is changing," Chergosky said. "It used to be the case that the heart and soul of the GOP state party was the suburbs of Milwaukee, but that could be shifting."
Chergosky believes Michels was able to exceed expectations by two factors, money and Donald Trump.
The former president endorsed Michels and made a visit to Wisconsin days ahead of the primary. Being a multi-millionaire co-owner of a construction company also helped Michels throw more than $10 million of his own money in the race.
"When Donald Trump gets involved you can bet people are going to start paying attention on top of all the money that was spent," Chergosky said. "Donald Trump's presence undoubtedly motivated voters."
For the first time in four decades, Wisconsin recorded the highest voter turnout for a non-presidential primary with more than 1.2 million people participating in the August primary, according to unofficial results.
The dozens of campaign ads are also likely a factor that helped boost turnout, Chergosky said.
"That had an impact because voters were more aware of the campaign and they were more aware of the candidates."
Nearly 700,000 Republicans voted in the highly contested governor's race, in contrast to more than 500,000 Democrats who participated in the U.S. Senate race, according to unofficial results.