Kleefisch, who got her start as a local TV news anchor and later became a conservative radio contributor, sought office for the first time in 2010. In Wisconsin, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run in separate primaries before campaigning as a ticket in the general election, an arrangement sometimes likened to a shotgun wedding; Kleefisch earned her spot as Scott Walker’s partner by decisively beating four opponents.
That was unwelcome news for Walker’s team, though. Years later, an investigation into Walker would publicize messages that included his top aide calling Kleefisch “radioactive and not worth the time,” while other members of his inner circle also mocked his running mate. Kleefisch herself ended up apologizing during that campaign for saying of same-sex domestic partnerships, “This is a slippery slope in addition to that—at what point are we going to OK marrying inanimate objects? Can I marry this table, or this, you know, clock? Can we marry dogs?” All of that didn’t matter much in amid the GOP wave, though, and the Walker-Kleefisch ticket swept to victory in the fall by a comfortable 52-46 margin.
Each member of the duo was targeted in 2012 recall campaigns, which this time required them to run in separate races: Kleefisch won 53-47, which was similar to the governor’s performance. The two Republicans, who reportedly became close despite the initial hostility from Walker’s camp, then went on to win as a ticket again in 2014, by a very similar 52-47 spread. Kleefisch soon played a role in Walker’s drive to bring the electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn to Wisconsin in 2017, a project that attracted massive skepticism from the very start and never came close to generating the jobs and revenue the Walker administration promised.
Kleefisch was once again Walker’s running mate in 2018 as they sought a third term, but this time, the pair faced a hostile political climate. Kleefisch earned herself negative attention when she falsely claimed that Democratic foe Mandela Barnes, who was running to be Wisconsin’s first Black lieutenant governor, had knelt during the national anthem at the opening of the state fair. “I was looking at the flag and not my opponent,” Kleefisch later said, adding, “I was told later that he kneeled briefly and I repeated what someone else told me. And he has said that he didn’t do it and I have to believe him and I have to apologize for repeating something I was told.” Barnes responded, “It’s not necessarily apologizing to me—it’s apologizing because you got caught.”
The Evers-Barnes ticket ousted Walker and Kleefisch 50-48, and chatter quickly began that the now-former lieutenant governor would run in her own right. Walker himself encouraged the speculation, saying in 2019 that, while he wouldn’t run again himself, Kleefisch “would be a hell of a great governor if she was elected.”
Kleefisch herself used her Thursday announcement to link herself more closely to Donald Trump than to her old boss. “There are people who said it could not be done, but instead Donald Trump became one of the most successful policy presidents of our time, presiding over the best economy in American history,” said Kleefisch, who also went after Evers’ public health measures and accused the governor of “siding with rioters.”
● MN-Sen: Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar announced on Thursday that she’d been treated for breast cancer earlier this year. In a statement, Klobuchar said that her doctors “determined in August that the treatment went well” and “believe that my chances of developing cancer again are no greater than the average person.” Klobuchar is not up for re-election until 2024.
● OH-Sen: Scene from Josh Mandel campaign HQ:
Campaign Manager: Wonderful news, boss! Our new poll from Remington Research—which was in the field on Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah—shows you beating J.D. Vance 34-16 in the GOP primary!
Mandel: That’s great! It’s because I ❤️ Trump so much.
CM: Except … it also shows your lead has slipped, since you were up 35-6 in June.
Mandel: This is fake news! It makes my blood boil!
Finance Director: Just memory-hole the old poll. We’ll pitch the new one to donors like we’re kicking ass and Vance is floundering. Easy money.
Mandel: It’s what Donald would want us to do.
● CA-Gov: The Democratic Party’s biggest guns are all coming out for Gov. Gavin Newsom with just days to go before Tuesday’s recall. Joe Biden is headed out to Long Beach in the Los Angeles area for a Monday rally with Newsom, while Barack Obama has recorded a direct-to-camera TV ad in which he exhorts Californians to vote “no” on the recall while touting Newsom’s efforts to fight the pandemic. (Kamala Harris was just in the Bay Area for an appearance with Newsom on Wednesday.)
Meanwhile, Republican Larry Elder’s latest—and closing?—ad is, as Politico’s Zach Montellaro puts it, “really working through some stuff.” The bizarre spot appears aimed at the incel vote: It features some guy named Brent Gold who directs a rant at Newsom that begins with him saying, “You remind me of the guy in high school who took my girlfriend, then went on to the next girl.” It only gets better from there.
● IA-Gov: Democratic state Sen. Pam Jochum says she’s considering a bid against Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds next year, though she did not offer a timetable for making a decision. Jochum was a potential contender for governor in 2014 but declined to run. Two prominent Democrats, state Rep. Ras Smith and businesswoman Deidre DeJear, are already in the race.
● IL-Gov: Venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan kicked off a bid for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday, and thanks to Illinois’ extremely lax campaign finance regulations, he’s already reported raising almost $11 million. Almost the entire sum was courtesy of four California tech titans, with $5 million donated by Chris Larsen (who was briefly the world’s fifth-richest person in 2018 thanks to cryptocurrencies) and another $4 million from Kevin Taweel, founder of the cell phone insurance company Asurion.
In launching his campaign, Sullivan said he supports vaccinating against COVID but attacked Pritzker’s public health measures to stem the pandemic. He also described himself as “nonideological” but said he opposes abortion rights. He joins a primary field that includes state Rep. Darren Bailey, businessman Gary Rabine, and former state Sen. Paul Schimpf. Rabine and Bailey attacked Sullivan for embodying the “values of Silicon Valley” and “San Francisco’s values.”
● ME-Gov: A new poll from SurveyUSA finds Democratic Gov. Janet Mills with a 46-41 lead on former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, which is not too different from the 45-38 advantage the firm found in late May. These are the only public numbers we have of next year’s race, but it’s important to note that the new poll’s sponsor, a progressive outfit called Swing Hard Turn Left, has an open agenda: recruiting state Senate President Troy Jackson to primary Mills from the left.
The Mills-LePage matchup was, fortunately, asked at the very start of the poll, but the rest of the survey consists of a long battery of questions designed to amp up support for Jackson. Even a seemingly straight primary head-to-head between Mills and Jackson comes after a lengthy, glowing description of Jackson as:
“someone that some people think would make a great Governor, Democratic Maine Senate President Troy Jackson. Troy grew up in Aroostook County, the son of a school teacher and logger. He followed in his father’s footsteps to become a fifth generation logger, where he still works to this day. In 2018, after having served in the Maine House and Maine Senate, he was selected by his peers to serve as Senate President. He has been a champion for working families and, as Governor, he would fight for the powerless to have a voice at the table.”
But after all that puffery, Mills still leads a hypothetical matchup 56-23. What then follows are 10 questions asking respondents whether they agree with a variety of bills passed by the legislature with Jackson’s backing this year, or Mills’ vetoes of those bills. Stunner of stunners, Jackson finally comes out ahead of Mills … and would stomp LePage, while Mills would trail him. The effort to inflate Jackson’s standing is so blatant that SurveyUSA’s accompanying memo offers a stern warning right at the top:
Important context: Respondents in this poll were not exposed to any overt attacks against Jackson. During the course of an actual campaign, negative messages about Jackson and positive messages about his primary and general election opponents would also be in circulation. Jackson’s performance in ballot test questions therefore should not be read as being predictive of what would actually happen in 2022 elections, but instead should be viewed as reflective of the “lift” that unopposed positive messaging could have.
Swing Hard is run by former Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling, who previously served in the legislature and has long been a presence in Maine’s political media scene. Strimling lost re-election in 2019 but was a prominent supporter of a largely successful effort to pass several local ballot measures last year, including one to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
● MI-Gov: Republican rich guy Kevin Rinke, who’s been considering a bid for governor, says he’s formed an exploratory committee—an entity that still does not exist under Michigan law. The trend to create made-up campaign vehicles started in July, when former Detroit Police chief James Craig launched an exploratory committee for this same primary, then admitted just hours later, “I am running.”
● NV-Gov: A mystery group called Better Nevada PAC is spending a reported $171,000 to air radio and TV ads boosting Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo’s bid for the GOP nomination for governor, the first major media outlay of the race. The TV spot features a narrator saying, “This is what radical anti-police riots looked like in other cities,” as footage of violent protests rolls. That’s supposed to be a contrast to Las Vegas: “But Sheriff Joe Lombardo said, not in his back yard,” the voiceover continues.
But as the Nevada Independent’s Riley Snyder points out, Vegas did in fact experience some violence during protests of police brutality after the murder of George Floyd, including one shooting that left an officer on Lombardo’s force paralyzed from the neck down. Lombardo faces a primary field that includes venture capitalist Guy Nohra and North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, and could grow to include former Sen. Dean Heller.
● VA-Gov: Republican Glenn Youngkin is out with two new ads. The first features five Virginia sheriffs bemoaning what they say is rising crime in the state while claiming that “extreme Democrats supporting Terry McAuliffe would defund the police.” The ad does not specify which McAuliffe backers have expressed this view, nor does it try to ascribe it directly to the former governor, who has said he opposes the idea.
This is the second commercial from Youngkin to feature sheriffs discussing crime, following a recent spot that spotlighted Chesterfield and Montgomery counties’ sheriffs. Those sheriffs are back for this ad and are joined by the top law enforcement officials from Loudoun, Prince William, and Virginia Beach. Interestingly, all of these jurisdictions backed both Ralph Northam in the 2017 governor’s race and Joe Biden last year. Youngkin is also out with an ad that focuses on the price of groceries and finds the candidate pledging to eliminate Virginia’s grocery tax.
McAuliffe has also launched a new positive spot that touts some of the economic accomplishments of his governorship during the 2010s. The commercial follows a Richmond-area businessman who says McAuliffe’s policies led to the creation of his and 200,000 other jobs.
● IL-17: Democratic state Rep. Mike Halpin, who’d been considering a bid for Illinois’ open 17th Congressional District, announced this week that he’d instead run for state Senate. Last month, WHBF’s Jim Niedelman reported that “other prominent Democrats” (whom he did not name) had told him they were waiting for Halpin to make a decision before announcing their own plans.
● WY-AL: As expected, Donald Trump endorsed attorney Harriet Hageman on Thursday, prompting Rep. Liz Cheney to issue a two-word response: “Bring it.” In his announcement, Trump claimed that Hagemen also has the support of Sen. Cynthia Lummis, to which Lummis responded, “I’ve known Harriet Hageman for decades. She is a fabulous choice for President Trump—and I’m just leaving it at that.” A spokesperson added, “While Senator Lummis is not making an endorsement at this time, she believes President Trump has made an inspired choice in backing Harriet Hageman.”
Trumpworld operatives also claim they’ve “received verbal commitments from many of the candidates to drop out” following Trump’s pick, according to Politico, but it’s not clear who, exactly might have made such a pledge. We’ll only know for sure if and when anyone actually bails in the weeks or months ahead.
● AZ-AG: The GOP field to defend this open seat grew by one this week when manufacturing executive Dawn Grove announced her campaign for attorney general. Grove is a first-time contender, but she has some notable business and political connections. She currently serves as a senior official at the parent company of Ping, the golf equipment company founded by her grandfather, and as chair of the state’s Workforce Council; Grove also previously led both the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Arizona Manufacturing Council.
Grove joins a GOP primary that features former federal prosecutor Lacy Cooper, former state Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould, and attorney Tiffany Shedd, who lost a bid against 1st District Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran 52-48 last year. The Democratic field includes former Arizona Corporation Commission Chair Kris Mayes, state Rep. Diego Rodriguez, and Bob McWhirter, who took a distant third place in the 2020 primary for Maricopa attorney.
● Louisiana: Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin announced Wednesday that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards had agreed to delay this year’s elections by five weeks because of continuing recovery from Hurricane Ida. Statewide and local races have been moved from Oct. 9 to Nov. 13, while any runoffs will now take place on Dec. 11 rather than in November.
The delay will impact four statewide referendums, including what The Advocate describes as two that are part of a bipartisan compromise the legislature passed this year that would overhaul the state’s tax system. The move also affects the timing of the mayoral race in New Orleans, where Democratic incumbent LaToya Cantrell doesn’t face any serious opposition, as well as other local contests and legislative special elections.
You can find our calendar for all of the key races still on tap for 2021 right here.