Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday said former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is Republicans' best chance at defeating Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in November.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos on Wednesday said former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch is Republicans’ best candidate for Wisconsin governor and said a messy GOP primary would hurt the party's chances of defeating Gov. Tony Evers.

Speaking at a WisPolitics lunch event, Vos said he believes Kleefisch is “certainly, in my mind, the best candidate.” He also encouraged Kevin Nicholson, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 and is expected to announce his gubernatorial campaign in the coming days, not to run for governor.

“If Kevin Nicholson is listening, you need to not run for governor,” Vos said.

Nicholson responded to the speaker's comments in a tweet: "Thanks, @repvos, for the political advice. Our elections are a mess, law & order is eroding, schools are failing. How about you focus on doing your job?"

“I think she has the experience, I think she has the passion and I think she has the ideas to get Wisconsin going in the right direction,” Vos said about Kleefisch after the event.

He also dispelled concerns that backing Kleefisch could be seen as interfering with the primary. 

“He has the right to run,” Vos said of Nicholson. “I just have the right to say who I think is the best.”

“I think if he runs, it hurts our chances to defeat Gov. Evers. But I can’t control that. If he runs, he runs,” Vos told the Cap Times.

The Assembly speaker said he believes Evers, a Democrat, is an “underdog” in his reelection bid. Recent campaign finance filings show the governor had more than $10 million in his campaign account at the start of 2022. Both the Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball rate the race as a "toss-up."

“I certainly think that having a messy primary where people go after, in a negative way, each other — which is usually what happens in an expensive primary — that just doesn't help us,” Vos said.

Kleefisch, who served under former Gov. Scott Walker, reported a formidable fundraising haul of about $3.4 million since launching her campaign. A campaign finance filing shows that she has about $2.6 million in the bank as 2022 kicks off.

Nicholson, who had the backing of GOP mega-donors Liz and Richard Uhlein in 2018, was defeated by former state Sen. Leah Vukmir in the Republican U.S. Senate primary four years ago. Vukmir, who won the primary by about 6 points, had the backing of much of the Republican establishment in the 2018 race — including the endorsement of the state Republican Party. Nicholson — a businessman and Marine Corps veteran — billed himself as a "conservative outsider” who would “shake things up.”

However, Liz Uhlein appears to be hedging her support this election cycle. She made a maximum donation of $20,000 to Kleefisch’s campaign and $200,000 to a super PAC supporting the former lieutenant governor, according to campaign finance filings. 

The Republican gubernatorial primary will be held Aug. 9. Nicholson’s expected run creates the potential for an expensive race for both candidates over the next several months.

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