MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The National Rifle Association on Monday issued a stinging rebuke of former President Donald Trump's pick for Wisconsin governor, accusing him of misleading its members after his campaign falsely claimed the gun advocacy group had endorsed him.
Construction company co-owner Tim Michels is locked in a three-way GOP primary with former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and state Rep. Tim Ramthun. Michels won Trump's endorsement in June. An endorsement from the NRA would have marked another huge win for him heading into the Aug. 9 election.
Michels' campaign sent out a flyer that landed in mailboxes Saturday that claimed the NRA had endorsed him. Scott Meyer, a Wisconsin lobbyist who has done work for the NRA, said the group hasn't endorsed anyone in the GOP primary and doesn't plan to do so.
“All this came out of the blue,” Meyer said of the flyer. “Stunned is the best word to describe it. I've never seen this before.”
Michels' campaign spokesman Chris Walker said in an email to The Associated Press on Monday that the claim was an “unintentional error” and has been immediately corrected with a new mailer that says Michels received an “AQ” grade on an NRA questionnaire about his stances on gun rights. Meyer said that grade indicates he answered the questions to the NRA's satisfaction.
“Our direct mail shouldn't have indicated that rating was an ‘endorsement,' and subsequent communications will describe his ‘AQ rating’ from the NRA,” Walker said in the email.
Asked in a follow-up email how the error was made, Walker said he wasn't part of “that process” and couldn't speak to it.
The NRA's political action committee posted an online message to NRA members Monday saying the original flyer does a disservice to voters. The message confirmed Michels got an an “AQ” rating on his questionnaire but that the gun group hasn't endorsed anyone in the primary.
“Misrepresenting our ratings or our position in any election contest does a disservice to you and all our members, as well as other gun owners to whom protection of their liberty and firearm freedoms is a factor in how they vote,” the message said.
Kleefisch campaign manager Charles Nichols said Michels was caught lying and “now he's desperately trying to cover his tracks.”
Walker responded to Nichols' remarks by saying the Michels campaign “made an error, admitted it and corrected it. That's what proper executive leaders do. However, it's a new week and the insider career politicians just can't help themselves, taking every opportunity to play gotcha politics.”
A message left with Ramthun’s campaign wasn’t immediately returned.
The primary winner will go on to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in the Nov. 8 general election.
This story has been updated to correct ‘can’ to ‘can’t’ in Michels campaign spokesman quote in 11th graf.
Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1