'The loss is still very raw:' Tim Michels says Trump, prominent Republicans told him he was certain to win governorship

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Former gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels called his defeat by Democratic Governor Tony Evers "devastating" after revealing top Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, said they were confident he would win.

"The loss is still very raw," Michels said during an interview on The Jay Weber show on WISN Tuesday.

Michels said Trump called him five days before the November election and told him he was not going to make a trip to Wisconsin because he believed he was going to be elected governor.

"[Trump] said, I'm not going to come in. You got this," Michel said, summarizing his call with Trump about a week before the election. "I've seen all the numbers and it looks really strong. Congratulations."

While the polls predicted a close race, Evers beat Michels by 3-points, which is more than 90,000 votes.

Michels added, "I was almost certain that we were going to win the general election."

Trump endorsed Michels and held a rally in Waukesha ahead of the primary election. At first, Michels embraced Trump's support, but shortly after winning the primary he rarely mentioned his name on the campaign trail.

Michels also said other prominent Republicans, including former Gov. Tommy Thompson, Trump's former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and former House Speaker Paul Ryan, all told him he was going to defeat Evers.

"It's what we heard everywhere, from everybody," said Michels. "All these people said, 'you're going to win,' and 'you need to start working on transition.' I was the one that put my foot down and said…'I am not going to start putting an administration together.'"

Michels said he takes full responsibility for his loss but added Republicans "need to look in the mirror and say what can we do better."

He called for a "complete revamping" within the state Republican party related to how they run campaigns, referencing Democrats' ability to raise money, engage with young voters, and combating high turnout rates in Dane County.

Michels also said the party needs to unify, mentioning "party in-fighting" with voters who stand behind either former Gov. Scott Walker, Gov. Thompson and Trump.

"This is a series game we are in. We need to play to win, and we need to modernize."

As to what factors led to his defeat, the overturning of Roe v. Wade played a significant role in motivating key voting blocs, Michels said. He called the abortion issue "messy" and "dicey."

After months of opposition to adding exceptions to Wisconsin's 1849 criminal abortion ban, Michels shifted his position in September and vowed to sign a bill to change the law that prohibits all abortions unless a mother's life is at risk.

The multi-millionaire construction executive said he invested $12 million during the primary and $8 million throughout the general election. Michels, co-owner of Michels Corporation, noted he should have put more money in, but added, "I'm not a bottomless pit."

Evers had raised more money throughout the campaign, outspending Michels nearly 3 to 1, according to Democrat and Republican operatives.

Michels declined to say whether he would run again but said he will "stay involved."

"I'll get back to work and I'd like to make back some of the money I spent. I spend a lot of it," Michels joked.

Michels has lost three elections, including the 2022 governor race, the 2004 U.S Senate race to Democrat Russ Feingold and in 1998 to Republican Sen. Scott Fitzgerald for state Senate.

He did encourage his former primary opponent, former Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, to run again, calling her a "great" candidate who is "telegenic" and "photogenic."

Kleefisch declined to say what her political future holds and dodged questions about the November election during an interview with CBS 58 earlier this month. Instead, Kleefisch said she remains committed to the 1848 Project, a nonprofit she launched which works to elect conservative candidates across the state.

"I'm not going to play pundit on November," Kleefisch said. "What I will tell you is I'm focused on electing top notch, excited, accountable and credible candidates into office."

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