Political Update: Republican Race for Governor Advances; Milwaukee Mayor Appointed to Ambassadorship

Last month, we reported on two key congressional races that Wisconsin will host in 2022. The state will also hold statewide elections for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. With Governor Tony Evers (D) seeking reelection in 2022, Republicans are likely to have a contested primary for their party’s gubernatorial nomination. Meanwhile, Milwaukee may soon have a new mayor for the first time since 2004.

Republican Gubernatorial Primary: Kleefisch In, McCoshen Out

Former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who served for eight years with former Republican Governor Scott Walker, formally announced on September 9 that she had entered the race. After leaving office in early 2019, Kleefisch has spent time in various roles, including working as the “jobs ambassador” for Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin. In 2020 she launched a political action committee to support Republican candidates and founded the 1848 Project to promote conservative ideas.

Madison lobbyist Bill McCoshen, who had publicly discussed running for governor and spent months exploring the possibility, was also considered a leading candidate until he announced on September 15 that he would not run. Shortly before he made the announcement, McCoshen sold his Capitol Consultants lobbying business to Michael Best Strategies. McCoshen has joined the firm as a managing partner.

Two other potential gubernatorial candidates, State Representative John Macco (Ledgeview) and conservative activist Kevin Nicholson, are considering whether to run but have not yet made a decision.

Meanwhile, several Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination for lieutenant governor. Most recently, State Senator Pat Testin (Stevens Point) announced that he had entered the race. Also in the running are Ben Voelkel, a former staffer to Wisconsin’s U.S. Senator Ron Johnson; David Varnam, the mayor of Lancaster; and David King, of Milwaukee. Entrepreneur Matt Cordio and State Senator Rob Stafsholt (New Richmond) are considering whether to run.

Milwaukee Mayor Barrett Nominated for Luxembourg Ambassadorship

On August 25, President Joe Biden (D) announced his intent to nominate Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to serve as the United States Ambassador to Luxembourg, a small nation in western Europe. Barrett will continue to serve as mayor of Milwaukee until his appointment is voted on by the United States Senate.

If Barrett is confirmed as ambassador, Milwaukee Common Council President Cavalier Johnson would act as mayor until an election is held. Once started, the process to elect a new mayor would take about three to four months. So far, both Johnson and Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas have announced that they plan to run for mayor. Several other city, county, and state politicians from Milwaukee are also considering a run.

Barrett was first elected mayor of Milwaukee in 2004 and has been reelected every four years since. He previously served in the Wisconsin Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives and twice ran unsuccessfully for governor against former Governor Scott Walker (R). Since 1960, the city of Milwaukee has had only four mayors.