Wisconsin raises MAGA stakes as Republicans defend Trump: The Note

Connecticut, Minnesota and Vermont also hold primaries on Tuesday.

August 9, 2022, 6:02 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

Tuesday's GOP race for governor of Wisconsin may look like another in a string of MAGA-vs.-establishment proxy fights.

Except this one is being fought on terms virtually dictated by former President Donald Trump -- and falls at a moment Republicans are rallying to his defense, even as the FBI turns up the heat.

The leading GOP candidates in the major races Tuesday all traffic in baseless claims that the 2020 election was either rigged or may have been outright stolen from Trump. Their main point of disagreement has been whether to still try to overturn the results in Wisconsin, nearly two years after President Joe Biden's victory was certified.

Trump's candidate, Tim Michels, is actually less aggressive on that topic than another contender who is endorsed by Trump loyalists Michael Flynn and Mike Lindell. Even former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch -- the candidate backed by former Vice President Mike Pence and former Gov. Scott Walker -- is in the "rigged" camp, having compared the election to the NFL "Deflategate" scandal after initially acknowledging Biden's victory as legitimate.

It's looking like a MAGA takeover inside the state that will host the 2024 Republican National Convention. Wisconsin GOP voters are also set to re-nominate Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on Tuesday, after Johnson emerged as one of the biggest Trump defenders and boosters in Congress.

Voting in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Connecticut and Vermont on Tuesday will add substantially to the more than 200 Republican nominees who either deny the legitimacy of the 2020 election or continue to raise questions about it, according to data compiled by FiveThirtyEight and ABC News.

Trump's false claims have spread so widely inside the GOP that it's not even clear there are primary candidates who would benefit from a backlash against him, even if that existed as an electoral force. Efforts to rebut or even channel some of his most outrageous claims have almost entirely fallen flat.

PHOTO: Sen. Ron Johnson speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing in Washington, April 26, 2022.
Sen. Ron Johnson speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing in Washington, April 26, 2022.
Bonnie Cash/AP, FILE

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

In two states holding primaries Tuesday, decisions at the ballot box could pave the way for historic elections in November.

In Wisconsin, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is the presumptive Democratic nominee after three major candidates in the once-crowded field coalesced behind him. If he wins in November, he could be the first Black senator from the state of Wisconsin.

"I know what a lack of opportunity means and I carry my story of my experiences as a Black man who was born in Milwaukee who still lives in Milwaukee," Barnes said in an interview with ABC News. "I take that all across Wisconsin."

He'll have to beat incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in a race Wisconsin political experts say will be intense.

"Mandela Barnes is going to face millions and millions of dollars of negative ads, and he is untested in terms of how he will hold up under that kind of barrage of negative campaigning," University of Wisconsin-La Crosse professor Anthony Chergosky said.

Voters in Vermont could, for the first time, send a woman to Congress. There, Democrat Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and state Sen. Becca Balint are considered top candidates for the at-large seat currently held by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. He is vacating the seat to run for Senate. Gray has the backing of retiring Sen. Patrick Leahy and former Vermont Gov. and DNC chair Howard Dean. Balint is the pick of progressive standard-bearers like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Vermont is the only state in the country that hasn't sent a woman to Capitol Hill as a member of Congress.

PHOTO: Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes who is running to become the Democratic nominee for the U.S. senate speaks during a campaign event at The Wicked Hop, Aug. 7, 2022, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes who is running to become the Democratic nominee for the U.S. senate speaks during a campaign event at The Wicked Hop, Aug. 7, 2022, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears to be leaning into his growing conservative notoriety by planning to hit the campaign trail in the coming weeks for a series of "Unite and Win" rallies hosted by the conservative group, Turning Point Action.

The schedule, which was announced Monday, includes stops in the midterm battlegrounds of Arizona, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where DeSantis will publicly back Republican nominees for statewide offices including Arizona gubernatorial and Senate nominees Kari Lake and Blake Masters, Ohio nominee for U.S. Senate J.D. Vance and Pennsylvania's gubernatorial nominee, Doug Mastriano.

All of the candidates made 2020 election denial a cornerstone of their platforms while earning former President Donald Trump's endorsement ahead of their primaries.

"Gov. DeSantis is America's governor and one of the most popular leaders in America. He has become the model for a new conservative movement that is willing to stand on principle and to actually fight on behalf of the values of his voters," Charlie Kirk, founder and president of Turning Point Action, said in a statement.

DeSantis' moves to campaign outside of Florida while in the middle of his own reelection campaign could signal higher political aspirations for 2024. Although the rallies are being billed as opportunities to unite Republicans after a divisive primary season, it remains to be seen whether Trump -- who continues to hint at a second presidential run -- will welcome another conservative force into the spotlight.

PHOTO: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures as he speaks during a news conference, Aug. 4, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures as he speaks during a news conference, Aug. 4, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.
Chris O'meara/AP

NUMBER OF THE DAY, powered by FiveThirtyEight

4. That's the number of Democratic primaries and elections we're watching on Tuesday in Connecticut, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Vermont. And as FiveThirtyEight's Geoffrey Skelley writes, three of these four races involve progressive Democrats who are on course to defeat their challengers -- two in heavily Democratic congressional districts in Vermont and Minnesota, and one in Wisconsin's highly competitive Senate race. (The other Democratic primary involves a red-leaning House seat in Wisconsin that Democrats will have a challenging time defending this November.) Please be sure to join us Tuesday for these results and more as we live blog at FiveThirtyEight.


ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. "Start Here" begins Tuesday morning with ABC News' Aaron Katersky on an FBI raid of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. Then, ABC News' Alex Presha details a police investigation into the killings of four Muslim men in New Mexico. And, ABC News' Abby Cruz explains the accelerating immigration standoff as Texas officials continue to bus migrants to New York City and Washington, D.C. http://apple.co/2HPocUL


  • President Joe Biden delivers remarks and signs into law H.R. 4346, the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, at 10 a.m. ET.
  • The president delivers remarks and signs the Instruments of Ratification for the Accession Protocols to the North Atlantic Treaty for the Republic of Finland and Kingdom of Sweden at 2 p.m. ET.
  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre holds a briefing at 2:40 p.m. ET.
  • Polls for primary elections open in Connecticut at 6 a.m. ET, in Minnesota at 8 a.m. ET, in Vermont at 5 a.m. ET and in Wisconsin at 8 a.m. ET.
  • Polls for primary elections close in Connecticut at 8 p.m. ET, in Minnesota at 9 p.m. ET, in Vermont at 7 p.m. ET and in Wisconsin at 9 p.m. ET.

Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check Wednesday for the latest.

Related Topics

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events