MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor Rebecca Kleefisch tested positive for COVID-19 after being exposed at church earlier this month, her campaign said Monday.
Kleefisch is a cancer survivor and a former two-term lieutenant governor. She is seeking to take on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers next year. Kleefisch launched her campaign on Sept. 9 and has been on the campaign trail since.
Three days later on Sept. 12, she was exposed to someone with COVID-19 while attending church in Hudson, which is in northwest Wisconsin just across the border from Minnesota, Kleefisch spokesman Alec Zimmerman said. Kleefisch was informed of the exposure on Sept. 16, took a test and the next day received a positive result. She was vaccinated earlier this spring, Zimmerman said.
“She is feeling fine,” Zimmerman said. “We have canceled all upcoming events and are notifying recent close contacts.”
Evers’ campaign issued a statement wishing Kleefisch a full recovery.
Kleefisch’s Twitter feed from Sept. 12 includes a picture of her hugging a woman and speaking to crowds of people indoors, many of whom are unmasked. Kleefisch is shown not wearing a mask. Those pictures were taken on Sept. 11, the day before Kleefisch was exposed to someone who tested positive, her spokesman said.
A post on Sept. 13, which includes another picture of Kleefisch speaking to a crowd inside while not wearing a mask, says she made three other stops in northwestern Wisconsin the day before.
“Stops in Hudson, Rice Lake, and Eau Claire yesterday to meet with Wisconsinites who are ready for better leadership,” she tweeted on Sept. 13. “(Don’t worry - we had the game on!)”
Kleefisch's positive test was first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Kleefisch is the latest in a growing number of office holders in Wisconsin who have tested positive, including U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and state Sen. Andre Jacque, who was intubated and put on a ventilator Aug. 23. His office has not provided updates on his condition in nearly a month.
New cases of COVID-19 have been on the rise across Wisconsin due to the more contagious delta variant. The seven-day average of new cases was 2,741 as of Sunday, a level not seen since January.
An unvaccinated person in Wisconsin is four times more likely to test positive, nearly nine times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die from the virus than someone who has been vaccinated, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Kleefisch, 46, was diagnosed with colon cancer in August 2010. Less than two weeks before winning the five-person lieutenant governor primary she had a tumor removed. She completed chemotherapy treatment during her first year in office.
She is the biggest name Republican in the race so far. State Rep. John Macco is considering a run and Kevin Nicholson, who lost the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in 2018, said he is running either for Senate or governor in 2022. He launched a $1.5 million statewide ad campaign on Monday to promote himself and an independent group he formed, but does not say which race he will run.