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He’s In: Kevin Nicholson Will Run for Governor

Kevin Nicholson is 100% in. The announcement is expected “in days.”

Former Marine Kevin Nicholson will announce a run for Wisconsin governor in days, Wisconsin Right Now has learned from a well-placed source.

The source told us the decision has been made: Kevin Nicholson is 100% in. The announcement is expected “in days,” the source said.

Kevin Nicholson’s entry into the race will set up what could be a bruising three-way Republican primary with former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and digital marketer Jonathan Wichmann (former Gov. Tommy Thompson is also flirting with a run, but it’s unclear whether he’s actually serious about it).

Kevin Nicholson, a combat veteran who runs No Better Friend Corp., is expected to run as an anti-establishment outsider, pushing a host of conservative issues, such as improving public safety and education. We’ve also learned from a source that Nicholson would not exit the race even if a Republican Party of Wisconsin endorsement went to Kleefisch and would leave the ultimate decision in the race to primary voters.

Kevin Nicholson’s Twitter page was silent on the decision, but he did write on January 16, 2022, “Our society is a mess and the political class doesn’t have the capacity to fix it. It’s time to turn the page and move forward.”

“It was great to see friends and new faces in Columbia County and to speak with the @WIFRW in Fond du Lac yesterday. Wisconsinites are rightly and deeply concerned about the future of our state and nation,” Nicholson wrote on January 16, 2022, referring to the Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women. He also shared a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He has also written about a host of state issues, such as violent crime and election integrity, in recent tweets.

In short, he’s sounding like a candidate – and one who is not afraid to run against the GOP “establishment.”

Nicholson made it clear previously that he was interested in either running for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s seat if Johnson didn’t run or for governor, and he was widely believed to prefer a Senate run; however, Johnson then announced he was running again. In fact, on January 16, Nicholson’s website still prominently stated, “Help Kevin take back Washington.”

No Better Friend’s platform focuses on “defending life. Support law enforcement. Honor those who have served. Fight critical race theory. Ensure free and fair elections. Protect and improve education.” The group has held well-attended events throughout the state on things like CRT and public safety, as well as the Iranian hostage crisis. Its website promises to “move the conservative movement forward.” The group launched a $1.5 million ad campaign in September.

Nicholson still faces some resentment in the Republican base over his bruising but ultimately unsuccessful primary with Leah Vukmir to take on U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Some attribute that primary, forcing Vukmir to spend down her money, with Baldwin’s victory, but others believe she lost because she wasn’t a strong general election candidate, and outside funders didn’t think she could win.

Some observers fear a similar outcome if a bloody Republican primary results for governor, whereby the candidates spend down their coffers. At the same time, it’s widely expected that major outside money will come into the state to boost the eventual Republican nominee because Wisconsin is a battleground state, and Donald Trump, if he runs for president in 2024, would like a strong Republican governor to help him carry this state. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is seen as vulnerable because of his lockdown measures, inept handling of unemployment benefits, and weak response to the Kenosha riots, among other issues.

Nicholson’s potential candidacy, Thompson’s comments, and Trump’s unsuccessful pushing of Sean Duffy to run before (Duffy is not) indicate that Kleefisch has not fully sealed the deal with primary voters as the presumptive frontrunner, some observers say.

In the Vukmir race, Vukmir had the major political endorsements by and large and Nicholson ran as an outsider. He was boosted by third-party groups backed in particular by Richard Uihlein, an Illinois businessman. “Uihlein-backed third-party groups bombarded the state for months with nearly $11 million worth of ads to support Nicholson and attack Vukmir,” the Journal Sentinel reported at the time.

According to the Journal Sentinel, Nicholson’s parents and brother donated to Baldwin’s campaign and Nicholson was “a former president of the College Democrats of America” who “supported abortion rights during a speech at the 2000 Democratic Convention.” This also caused controversy among Republicans during the Vukmir race and is certain to come up again, although Nicholson’s group supports pro-life issues, including helping groups that work with pregnancy resource to help women choose life. However, Nicholson has said that he became more conservative as he aged, had a family, and served in combat through the U.S. military.

Certainly, an anti-establishment sentiment has been activated in the state through parents’ groups angry about education issues to dislike over COVID-19 measures.

Although these issues are likely to arise anew in a gubernatorial primary, if he gets out of the primary, they could also arguably give Nicholson a crossover appeal argument that would confuse the Democratic governor’s playbook and could help the Republican win a general election. He’s certain to make that argument to Republican primary voters, but, in doing so, he’s going to be facing a former lieutenant governor, Kleefisch, who is backed by the state’s last Republican Gov. Scott Walker, whose son is helping run her campaign. To some degree, the primary will be a test of the viability of the Walker machine versus an anti-establishment approach.

Kleefisch recently announced a $3.3 million fundraising haul (Tony Evers announced $10 million). Getting out of the gate early has given her major momentum in the endorsement front. She has already racked up public safety endorsements, earning endorsements from the majority of Wisconsin’s sheriffs and major law enforcement associations.

The elephant in the room when it comes to endorsements, though, is Trump: What would he do? His pushing of Sean Duffy wouldn’t seem to bode well for Kleefisch on that front, but it’s also possible the former president would just sit the primary out.

Kleefisch’s association with Walker might help her in the primary but could be a hurdle in a general election where she will need to win back independents Walker lost in his last governor’s race; on the other hand, some of those independents may be so angry at Evers (and by association Biden) that Walker is looking better to them in retrospect. So far, Kleefisch has seemed to be running a campaign out of Walker’s playbook, focusing on issues that are catnip to the Republican base like CRT. Nicholson has also focused on that issue, holding events relating to it throughout the state.

There’s another wild card in this all, and he could divide the outsider vote. Jonathan Wichmann.

Wichmann has developed diehard support through patriot and other conservative groups in the state, running almost entirely outside the county party apparatus, although it’s unclear how broad it will prove at election time. But his support is intense. It’s possible that Wichmann and Nicholson could divide some of the anti-establishment vote, boosting Kleefisch, even if the percentage he wins were relatively small.

Nicholson’s entrance into the race is certainly going to make it more interesting.

His website gives this bio for Kevin Nicholson:

“Kevin Nicholson is a husband, father of three, businessman, and highly decorated combat veteran of the United States Marine Corps (Iraq: 2007; Afghanistan: 2008-2009). Born and raised in Wisconsin, he and his family now live in Delafield.

Kevin ran for the U.S. Senate for the same reason he joined the Marine Corps while America was at war: because America is worth fighting for. Our nation’s financial, economic, and national security problems are large –and growing exponentially. Kevin and his family believe conservatives with real-world experience need to step up and provide solutions.

The sum total of his experiences in the Marine Corps, in combat, and in business have made Kevin a strong advocate for common sense, conservative principles.”

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