In close Wis. gov. race, Republican Tim Michels remains on the right. It can help him.

On key issues like abortion and election denial, Tim Michels, the Republican nominee for governor of Wisconsin, isn’t heading to the political center in the homestretch to Election Day.

It might help him in the end.

Traditionally, candidates have taken positions in primary campaigns to appeal to the voters who are part of their party base, but to moderate in general election campaigns to appeal to a wider voter field.

michelles, follow a pattern of other Republican candidates in governor races in states like Arizona and Pennsylvania, have not.

In fact, Michels has remained steadfast in his support for an 1849 state law banning abortion in nearly all cases, which came back into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. At a recent campaign event, he told supporters, “I’m not going to soften my stance on abortion,” despite national headwinds showing the issue is a major motivator for Democratic and independent voters.

Wisconsin’s 173-year-old law makes performing an abortion a felony; doctors performing the procedure face up to six years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. It only makes an exception to save the woman’s life – but not for her health or for a pregnancy due to rape or incest.

During the primary, Michels echoed former President Donald Trump’s false claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election and said he would consider signing a bill that would decertify election results (although state or federal law doesn’t allow this).

In recent days, he has again sent support to and from prominent election deniers in the state. Over the weekend, he attended a rally where among those in attendance were: Michael Gablemanthe Trump-backed architect of a 14-month investigation into the 2020 election in the state that found no evidence of widespread fraud, and Tim Ramthuna state representative who focused his own failed bid for the nomination for governor on attempts to decertify the 2020 election results, which is neither possible nor legal.

Strategists and political observers in Wisconsin said the moves may help Michels, as they have created an opening for him to further elevate issues that could build on voter enthusiasm among his grassroots without alienating independent voters.

“On abortion, he maintains the party base by upholding his stance,” said Charles Franklin, political science professor and director of the Marquette University Law School survey. “Changing the abortion issue could even be counterproductive, doesn’t help him with the grassroots and doesn’t help him with moderates or independents.”

Franklin’s latest poll, published last week, found that abortion policies and “accurate vote counting” weren’t even top 3 issues among Wisconsin’s independent voters; they said they were much more concerned about inflation, crime and public education. A Siena College/Spectrum News poll released Tuesday found that just 7% of independent voters in the state said abortion was the top issue in determining who to vote for in November. (At the same time, both polls showed strong support among independents for enacting a more permissive abortion law than the 1849 law.)

While Michels has not explicitly addressed the rhetoric surrounding the 2020 election in recent weeks, his decision to stay close to other prominent election deniers in the state may be an attempt to continue to bolster his credibility among Republican voters who still care deeply. raise the issue, Franklin and others said. Inflation aside, according to the latest Marquette poll, the “accurate vote count” was the issue GOP voters cared about most. The Siena College/Spectrum News poll on Tuesday found that just 16% of independent voters said “threats to our democracy” were the top issue in determining who to vote for.

“He really keeps himself close enough to send the signals to get his base’s approval if it comes to that matter, while also, quite diligently, he hasn’t been loud or final on the matter since the primary ended. said Franklin.

The fact that polls show the two issues are not critical to independent voters in Wisconsin allows Michels to use them to strengthen his base, without the dwindling — but nonetheless critical — number of independent voters on whom the election could rest. , to alienate, say strategists.

“What makes Wisconsin a unique beast is that, yes, while about 90% of running a winning race is about taking out your base, there really are still a small number of people who can be convinced. It’s not a ton, it used to be a lot, but because our races are so close together, they’re important,” said Mark Graul, a Republican political strategist in Wisconsin who is not affiliated with either campaign.

“So I think Tim Michels plays that just right. He has already stated his position on abortion. The mistake would be to say one thing and then say another and drive everyone crazy,” Graul added. “Being able to not take out the grassroots while also knowing that it may very well be that independents don’t really vote on that issue in Wisconsin seems like [the] right move.”

Tim Michels at an election night rally on Aug. 9 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Scott Olson / Getty Images

It could further benefit Michels that the issues his campaign has most focused on in the general election — crime, inflation and education — are among the top issues prioritized by Republicans and independents alike, according to polls.

“He can offend crime, education and inflation while remaining authentic about abortion and election integrity,” said Bill McCoshen, a Republican strategist who informally advises the Michels campaign. “That’s what you want to do — play abusive, maintain authenticity — when you’re trying to rip off a incumbent.”

Franklin said: “It’s just a good thing for Michels. It lets him talk to the grassroots and independents at the same time.”

Michels is engaged in an exciting race with Governor Tony Evers, one of the most vulnerable Democratic governors in the country. The latest RealClearPolitics poll average shows Evers Michels leading by 2.5 percentage points, within most of the polls’ margins of error. Evers won in 2018 by less than 30,000 votes. President Joe Biden won by fewer than 21,000 votes in 2020. The unbiased Cook Political Report rates the race as a toss-up.

In Wisconsin, as in other states where governor races are closely watched, the stakes for Evers are particularly high. With two GOP-controlled branches of the legislature, a Republican governor would wield broad power over the future of abortion and elections in the state.

Michel’s campaign adviser Chris Walker did not respond to questions about Michels’ abortion strategy or electoral issues.

“Our campaign is focused on delivering a stronger economy, better schools and safer communities,” Walker said in a statement when asked about Michels’ recent statements on abortion and his stance on the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Evers campaign said Michels was “satisfied with mapping out radical positions” and “not interested in a governor who will bring our state together.”

“On everything from voting rights to abortion, Michels has taken the most insignificant position possible, putting him at odds with his own party and the rest of the state,” campaign spokesman Sam Roecker said in a statement.