Kevin Nicholson’s departure from the governor’s race essentially means it’s a two-person contest for the GOP nomination in August.

The Aug. 9 primary pits former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch against wealthy construction executive Tim Michels.

Election 2022-Wisconsin-Governor-Michels

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels speaks during the State GOP Convention on May 21, 2022, in Middleton, Wis. The two front-runners in Wisconsin’s Republican primary race for governor are going after one another over gas prices, marking a more negative shift in the race less than five weeks before the Aug. 9 primary. Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch attacked rival Tim Michels by name for the first time in a television ad Wednesday, July 6 2022 where she bemoans high gas prices as she fills up her minivan.

Nicholson in early July announced the suspension of his campaign, saying he didn’t want to attack his rivals to win the Republican nomination.

Nicholson said he assessed the state of the primary race and came to the conclusion that “the only path forward for our campaign is attacking the other candidates in the race on the airwaves and running a very negative campaign.”

Nicholson was a distant third in the GOP gubernatorial primary field, according to the most recent Marquette University Law School Poll. Twenty-seven percent of Republicans who planned to vote in the GOP primary backed Michels, while 26 percent supported Kleefisch.

Rebecca Kleefisch

Former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. and current Wisconsin Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Rebecca Kleefisch was among the speakers at the July 10, 2021 Republican Party of Dane County picnic, held at Carriage Hills Estates Park.

Nicholson was at 10 percent.

“While our team has the capability to do that, that is not something I want to do – nor do I believe that it would be good for the party to do so,” Nicholson said of going negative. “This election is too important for our state and our movement.”

Nicholson, who lost a race for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination in 2018, has struggled to gain traction since Michels joined the field. They have similar profiles as veterans with business backgrounds. Each has also sought to run as an outsider. Pundits’ first reaction: Michels will gain from Nicholson’s departure.

Nicholson’s decision came five weeks out from the primary. Though he is suspending his campaign, he will still appear on the Aug. 9 ballot.

Nicholson said he doesn’t plan to endorse anyone ahead of the GOP primary, which also includes Rep. Tim Ramthun, R-Campbellsport.

Nicholson isn’t closing the door on another bid for public office.

Nicholson, a business consultant and former Marine, told conservative radio host Mark Belling he planned to take time to reflect and was looking forward to spending time with his wife and kids.

Nicholson said he will also never stop caring about the state and nation.

“You’ve got to stand up and try and do the right thing. How does that manifest in the future? I don’t know exactly,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson hasn’t put up a meaningful paid media campaign in recent weeks, though the PAC Fighting for Wisconsin supporting him last month reported spending $950,000 on a media buy.

Nicholson told Belling that Michels’ major personal resources put him in the position that the only option going forward was to go negative, and he didn’t want to do that.

Still, Nicholson has taken shots at both Kleefisch and Michels. After reports that Kleefisch planned to use strategies such as ballot harvesting in the election, Nicholson said anyone who supports the idea is “as dumb as a bag of hammers.”

Both Kleefisch and Michels praised Nicholson after he dropped out of the race and vowed to contend for his supporters.

State Dem Party spokeswoman Hannah Menchhoff said Nicholson’s departure “only means that there is one less radical Republican in the gubernatorial primary.”

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The Capitol Report, produced by — a nonpartisan, Madison-based news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics — provides a weekly analysis of issues being debated in Wisconsin state government. It is underwritten by the WNA and produced exclusively for its members. President Jeff Mayers is a former editor and reporter for the Associated Press and a former political writer for the Wisconsin State Journal.