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Michels’ win highlights realignment of Wisconsin political map heading into fall election

Michels won GOP nomination for governor by winning 62 of the state’s 72 counties, most of them outside of the traditional Republican base of southeast Wisconsin.

Published: August 12, 2022 9:40am

Updated: August 14, 2022 11:10pm

(The Center Square) -

The political geography in Wisconsin politics is changing.

Tim Michels won the Republican nomination for governor on Tuesday by winning 62 of the state’s 72 counties, most of them outside of the traditional Republican base of southeast Wisconsin.

“Tim Michels won every region of the state,” Common Sense Wisconsin’s Joe Handrick noted. “Most impressive wasn't the margin, but the breadth of the win. He performed strongly across the entire state.”

Handrick said Michels won the Northwoods region by 19%, won Western Wisconsin by 17%, won Central and Northeastern Wisconsin by 3%, and won Southern and Southeastern Wisconsin by 2%.

Michels defeated Rebecca Kleefisch by a statewide total of 5%, or about 35,000 actual votes.

“Michels wins counties all over, while Kleefisch's strength was limited in area and wins were modest in size,” Marquette Law School Poll chief Charles Franklin said after the election. “Kleefisch underperformed in her past stronghold of the southeast while Michels did well elsewhere. Small wins for Kleefisch were not enough to match Michels breadth and some strong showings.”

Former Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus said some of that success is because of Michels’ message, and some of the success is attributable to former President Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump changed the map,” Priebus told Jay Weber on News Talk 1130 WISN. “The [Northwoods] used to be a killer for us, we could never win that district. Then, over time, Sean Duffy won, Trump came in and that’s a ruby-red part of the state right now.”

Priebus said the same thing is happening in Racine and Kenosha, Rock County, and Washing County is changing as well.

“The WOW county mystique is fine as an analysis for a general election. It doesn’t work for a primary,” Priebus explained. “We saw it [Tuesday] night. We saw it in 2018, it started changing in the general election in 2018.”

Priebus also said Michels, because of his construction business, will be able to expand the Republican map further, into traditionally union-Democrat strongholds.

“Rock County, which is a very similar type of place as Racine and Kenosha, to me it’s a blue collar, Tim Michels construction, union feeling that can relate to Michels,” Priebus added. “That’s going to be important all over the state.”