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Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Republican-backed Daniel Kelly during a debate, in Madison, Wis., on March 21, 2023.
Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Daniel Kelly during a debate, in Madison on Tuesday.Morry Gash / AP

In Wisconsin Supreme Court race, conservative Daniel Kelly keeps distance from Trump

In an interview with NBC News, Kelly said he was "not looking for" an endorsement from Trump, who lent him his support in Kelly's unsuccessful 2020 state Supreme Court race.


Daniel Kelly, the conservative candidate in the race that will determine ideological control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, said he isn’t looking for an endorsement from former President Donald Trump in the final days of the campaign.

And if Trump were to issue one anyway, Kelly’s campaign wouldn’t necessarily welcome it.

“We’re not looking for one,” Kelly said in an interview Wednesday, responding to a question about whether there was a last-minute Trump endorsement in the works. “I’m not really looking for endorsements from political actors.”

Asked if he would welcome one, Kelly responded, "We’d have to take a look at it and see what message that would be sending."

He also said he has "no idea" about whether an endorsement would hurt his campaign.

Kelly, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, lost his seat in his 2020 election to liberal justice Jill Karofsky — a race in which he was endorsed by Trump. 

Kelly, who said Wednesday he hadn’t solicited the endorsement in 2020, nevertheless praised the support as “significant” because of the popularity among conservatives of Trump’s nominees to the Supreme Court.

“The idea was that the endorsement at that time carried the idea that I would be a jurist in the frame of those who were appointed to the judiciary, including people like Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh,” he said.

But he demurred when asked if that idea no longer applied.

Kelly’s remarks underscore how ties to Trump could be a vulnerability for him in the contest.

He has faced repeated attacks from his opponent, liberal judge Janet Protasiewicz, for having advised Republicans on legal efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential race through the use of “fake electors.”

In a deposition to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, former Wisconsin GOP chairman Andrew Hitt said he and Kelly had “pretty extensive conversations” about the plan, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last month that the Republican Party at the state and national levels had paid Kelly $120,000 to advise them on “election integrity” issues.

Kelly has repeatedly hit back against the accusations and denies any involvement in the matter. 

At his only debate against Protasiewicz, held last week, Kelly maintained that Hitt had testified "that he had one conversation with me, 30 minutes, in which he asked if I was in the loop on the alternate electors slate."

"I told him I wasn’t, because I wasn’t, and that was the end of the matter," Kelly said at the debate.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court race on April 4 is of deep importance to both liberals and conservatives. A win by Kelly would retain conservative control of the court, while a win by Protasiewicz would result in a liberal majority for the first time in 15 years and could determine the fate of issues like abortion rights in the state.