Wisconsin’s Republican primary for governor is being seen nationally as a proxy battle over the future of the party between former President Donald Trump, who endorsed businessman Tim Michels, and former Vice President Mike Pence, who backed former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. 

But in Pleasant Prairie, a largely Republican village south of Kenosha in one of the state’s marquee swing counties — and one that voted for former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Trump in 2016 and 2020 — many voters said Trump’s endorsement wasn’t a factor in their vote.  

“That didn’t have any role in it,” said Steve Plato, a 51-year-old educator who said he voted for Michels. 

“The candidates are very close and very similar — it’s hard to differentiate between the two,” he said. “It just boiled down to, I like the fact that he was in business, I like the fact that he is not a politician, and I love the fact that he’s a veteran. Those are the things that put him over the top.” 

Others cited their long-standing admiration for Kleefisch, who was former Gov. Scott Walker’s No. 2 for eight years. 

“I’m a Rebecca girl, and I would not vote for anyone just because Trump said so,” said Ellie, a retiree who declined to give her last name for privacy reasons. “She’s a good conservative.” 

“It’s kind of a toss-up. I went with Rebecca,” said Mike Meyer, a 68-year-old part-time grocery worker. 

“I’d vote for either one, but it’s all kind of depending on which negative ad you want to listen to,” he said, laughing. “I tolerate Trump, but personally — let’s go with some women this time.”

The winner of the GOP primary will face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November in what’s expected to be one of the nation’s most closely watched gubernatorial races, and one that will set the stage for the 2024 presidential contest in which Wisconsin is all but certain to be a major focus for both parties.

Other Republican primary voters in Pleasant Prairie said Trump’s endorsement of Michels actually steered them toward Kleefisch. 

Leah, 50, who works for a pharmaceutical company and declined to give her last name for privacy reasons, said she voted for Kleefisch. “I’m a White, suburban, college-educated female, so you can probably guess,” she said.  

Leah said she “absolutely” wants to see the GOP move away from Trump. She said she considers herself an independent. 

“I always complain about the extreme people in the primary, so I’m like ‘well, if I want to get a candidate that’s more feasible, that’s digestible, than I owe it to myself to vote in the primary,’” she said.  

Jessica Domine, an 18-year-old hotel worker, said she voted for Kleefisch because “I’m not the biggest fan of Trump.”

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By Richard

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