Kevin Nicholson enters Wisconsin's governor race, comes out swinging against GOP 'machine'

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Kevin Nicholson has officially announced he's running for governor, setting up a Republican primary against former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.

Nicholson, a Marine veteran and Waukesha County business owner, came out swinging against his opponent and top Republicans on a conservative radio show blaming them for losing 11 out of the last 12 statewide general elections. He also took aim at the GOP "machine" and established himself as an outsider to bring a new perspective to the race. 

"If we keep electing the same broken record to office, the same machine, they're suddenly going to get curious about it and fix it? That's why I'm running for governor, because we need people from the outside to step up and actually fight it," Nicholson said on WTAQ radio. 

Entering the race was anticipated and comes after the Republican leader of the Assembly, Rep. Robin Vos, asked Nicholson not to run because he raised concerns that a competitive primary could impact the party's chances of defeating incumbent Democratic Governor Tony Evers.  

Nicholson shot back at those remarks, calling it "corrupt and stupid" for Republicans to listen to Vos, who has publicly endorsed Kleefisch.

During a visit to La Crosse, Kleefisch encouraged Nicholson to take his anger out at Tony Evers, instead of the Republican Party. 

"I know he may be very angry that he can't run for United States Senate," Kleefisch said. "But the rest of us are angry too. It's just that our anger is focused on Tony Evers' failed leadership."

Nicholson had intentions to run for U.S. Senate if Ron Johnson decided not to seek a third term.  

Chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Ben Wikler, welcomed the news of a competitive primary and said he hopes it can work in their favor to stand against Republicans' agenda. 

"Showcasing ideas that are really popular helps a party, but the problem with Kleefisch and Nicholson is that their ideas are extreme," Wikler said. "They will push each other to take positions that are deeply unpopular with most voters across our state."

On his campaign website, Nicholson's agenda includes banning critical race theory in schools, creating mandatory minimum sentencing for people charged with a violent crime, and prohibiting voters from using ballot drop boxes. 

One key question in this GOP primary is who will win the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Both Nicholson and Kleefisch are strong supporters of Trump and have aligned their campaigns with issues he supports, themes like election integrity and restoring law and order. 

Trump tapped former Republican Congressman Sean Duffy to run last year, but he declined, to spend more time with his family. 

Prior to his announcement, Nicholson created the conservative group No Better Friend and has been traveling the state hinting at his bid for governor.

In 2018, Nicholson ran against Leah Vukmir for U.S. Senate but lost in the primary.

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