Kleefisch announced her long-expected bid for governor Thursday morning in a campaign video. She is the first high-profile Republican to enter the race to challenge Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is seeking reelection for another four-year term.
Kleefsich, 46, served as former Gov. Scott Walker’s lieutenant governor during his two terms in office, from 2011 until 2019. Along with Walker, Kleefisch survived a recall election in 2012. During her time in the Walker administration, Kleefisch focused on issues including support for small businesses, job training for incarcerated individuals and combating the state’s opioid epidemic.
She received sharp criticism and national attention in 2010 for comparing gay marriage to marrying a dog or a table.
In the campaign video, Kleefisch slams Evers' response to the coronavirus pandemic and protests last summer, saying he "failed to lead." Kleefisch said she is ready to back law enforcement, look out for Main Street businesses and advocate for families and children.
Since leaving office, Kleefisch has worked as the executive director of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission and as a jobs ambassador for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin. She launched a conservative advocacy organization, 1848 Project, last fall. Democrats have criticized the group, as well as a separate political action committee called Rebecca PAC, as inappropriate and potentially illegal campaign operations that existed ahead of an official gubernatorial campaign launch.
Before her career as a politician, which began in the lieutenant governor’s office, Kleefisch worked as a journalist in Illinois and Wisconsin. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In a statement released Thursday morning, the head of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin called Kleefisch "too extreme for Wisconsin."
"During her tenure as lieutenant governor, Kleefisch championed far-right policies that hurt Wisconsinites and eviscerated protections for workers," said Ben Wikler, chair of the party. "She wants to drag Wisconsin backwards to the failed days of the Scott Walker era, and has shown she can’t be trusted to follow science and listen to the experts in a crisis."
The only other announced GOP candidate in the 2022 governor’s race is businessman Jonathan Wichmann. Other possible Republican contenders include state Sen. Chris Kapenga, 2018 U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson, former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow and former GOP staffer and lobbyist Bill McCoshen.
The Republican gubernatorial primary will be held next August.
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