Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Rebecca Kleefisch Will Run for Governor

Former Lt. Governor hasn’t announced, but is clearly organizing for 2022 campaign.

By - Sep 21st, 2020 11:37 am
Rebecca Kleefisch. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Rebecca Kleefisch. FIle photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch keynoted a Green Bay fundraiser last Monday for Assembly candidate Drew Kirsteatter — one of several Republican candidates for the Legislature that Kleefisch recruited as she lays the groundwork to run for governor in 2022.

Kirsteatter, making his first run for the Legislature in a district Democrats have considered safe, thanked Kleefisch on Facebook the next day: “What a fantastic event! Thanks so much to everyone who came out and showed support for our campaign. A special thanks to Rebecca Kleefisch, Rep. John Macco, and [Senate candidate] Eric Wimberger for coming out and showing support!”

The next night, Kleefisch was in Janesville to boost the campaign of another Republican Assembly candidate, DuWayne Severson.

Two years before the 2022 election for governor, Kleefisch, who served as Gov. Scott Walker’s lieutenant governor for eight years, is the most organized Republican planning a run against Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

After the Walker/Kleefisch ticket lost to Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, she went to Washington to serve as executive director of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. Since returning to Wisconsin last year, the 45-year-old Kleefisch has:

-Recruited up to 25 Republican candidates for the Assembly, including in some cities — Janesville and Kenosha — considered Democratic strongholds. “Moral support” and advice is how one first-time GOP candidate, Ed Hibsch, of Kenosha, described his help from Kleefisch.

Another past Libertarian candidate for governor and U.S. Senate, Phil Anderson, said Kleefisch recruited him to run for a Madison-area Assembly seat as a Republican.

-Formed a conservative nonprofit think tank, the 1848Project, to “pioneer a better tomorrow,” according to its website. Leaders of the 1848Project include some of the state’s successful business and veteran political leaders. They include the founders of Kwik Trip, Sargento Foods, Michels Construction, Prehn Cranberry and Ashley Furniture; political leaders like former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, GOP National Committeewoman Mary Buestrin and former Republican Party Chairman Rick Graber, and Eloise Anderson, former secretary of the state Department of Families and Children.

-Formed RebeccaPAC to donate to Republican candidates.

Kleefisch’s under-the-radar organizing has made contacts that could help her in 2022. “It was great to have Rebecca Kleefisch partner with us to recruit quality candidates,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said last week. “We now have a large, diverse group of individuals running for office.”

Kleefisch and her husband, Joel, who represented the Oconomowoc-area in the Assembly for 14 years before not seeking re-election in 2018, live in the Town of Concord in Jefferson County. They have two teenage daughters. After leaving the Assembly, Joel Kleefisch became a Capitol lobbyist.

Two other potential Republican candidates for governor are U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, whose second term is up in 2022, and Capitol lobbyist and Republican strategist Bill McCoshen.

McCoshen is a former aide to and Commerce Department secretary for four-term Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. He is also part owner of the Janesville Jets pro hockey team.

A third potential candidate, Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, is not expected to run.

Asked about her organizing, Kleefisch did not refer to running for governor in 2022, but said that “Recruiting talented, hard-working candidates and supporting them with Rebecca PAC, and launching the 1848 Project to build the conservative plan for Wisconsin’s future is about offering neighbors across the state a better future by working together as a team.”

“It’s pretty transparent,” she added. “When these efforts succeed, we’ll take huge strides toward education and economic equality and empowerment, and we’ll be the state to envy.”

Still, those efforts point to her running for governor.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him af

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