MADISON, Wis. - Adam Jarchow says he's tired of "woke liberalism" and would like to go hunting with Kyle Rittenhouse. Eric Toney keeps telling people he knows how to put criminals in prison.
Jarchow and Toney are the leading candidates among Republicans vying in the August primary to challenge Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul this fall. Voters' pick could reveal much about whether the GOP faithful want Wisconsin's top cop to focus on cleaning up the streets or pushing back against Democratic policies.
Toney has been the Fond du Lac County district attorney since 2021. Jarchow, a former legislator, is a private practice attorney. It's the first statewide race for both. Jarchow has focused on national issues, while Toney has played up his law enforcement credentials.
The Aug. 9 primary is still months off, but Jarchow has the early fundraising advantage, bringing in $200,000 in a matter of weeks and more than doubling Toney's take over the last nine months of 2021.
" (Jarchow) has certainly brought the energy," said Republican campaign strategist Zack Roday, who said he's neutral in the race. "He's like a dog on a bone . . . (Toney) has a hell of a resume and he's a nice person, too, but his campaign is one from the past."
Another Republican, Chippewa Falls attorney Karen Mueller, joined the race in late March. Mueller, who sued in 2020 seeking to decertify Joe Biden's victory in Wisconsin, said she wants to be the attorney general so she can investigate allegations that hospitals are murdering COVID-19 patients and that vaccines are "frankenshots" that could kill or injure people. The vaccines have been proven safe and effective.
Jarchow represented Polk County in the Assembly from 2015 to 2019. He sponsored bills to prevent condo and homeowner associations from prohibiting residents from flying Wisconsin and U.S. flags; to allow homeowners to appeal their property tax assessments even if they refuse to let an assessor in; to eliminate the minimum age for bear hunting; and to end bans on deer baiting and feeding in counties with chronic wasting disease.
He chose not to seek a third term, saying at the time that "politicians, like diapers, should be changed often, and for the same reason."
After he left the Legislature, Jarchow created an online news hub for conservatives called Empower Wisconsin. The site is still active, with stories criticizing Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Jarchow has never tried a criminal case. State law doesn't require an attorney general to have prosecutorial experience.
Jarchow's top campaign aides include Joe Fadness, who advised Scott Walker during Walker's years as governor. Jarchow's campaign has made heavy use of Twitter messaging that often attacks Democrats on national issues.
"Woke liberalism destroys everything," Jarchow tweeted March 20. "In November, help is on the way!"
A week earlier, he tweeted his interest in hunting with Rittenhouse, the Illinois man who shot three demonstrators during unrest in Kenosha in 2020, and ripping "the media trash" and "totally unjust prosecution" that followed. Rittenhouse pleaded self-defense and was acquitted of multiple charges last year.
Jarchow has also branded state government "the Madison Swamp," criticized transgender athletes as hurting female athletes and blamed Biden and Evers for inflation.
He has attacked Evers, too, for issuing a stay-at-home order as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting and has hammered Toney for charging 10 people with violating the order. Toney eventually dropped those charges.
Toney has run a more moderate campaign so far, with longtime strategist Darrin Schmitz — who worked for Gov. Tommy Thompson in the 1990s and on George W. Bush's presidential campaign in Wisconsin — as a key adviser.
Instead of delving deeply into national politics, Toney has played up his nine years as district attorney and endorsements from police unions and groups. His message: Conservatives need to elect a prosecutor, not a politician, to the attorney general's office.
"I'm focused on the issues the attorney general can actually deal with. If somebody wants to run for a different office they should do that," Toney said in a telephone interview. "If you're running for attorney general and public safety isn't your main issue, you shouldn't be running."
He explained his decision to drop charges over alleged violations of the stay-at-home order by saying they were filed soon after the order was imposed. It became clear as time passed that police were educating people on the order rather than arresting them, he said.
On another issue critical to many in the Republican base, Toney pointed out that he charged five people with voter fraud in February, accusing them of illegally using post office boxes as their voter registration addresses. Both Toney and Jarchow have acknowledged Biden is the president but each has said they would investigate allegations of election fraud as attorney general.
Jarchow's fundraising advantage shows his message is resonating better with the conservative base, said GOP strategist Mark Graul, who also said he's neutral and uninvolved in the race.
"It's hard to predict (the primary winner) in March," Graul said. "No one is paying attention except insiders. (But) there's a higher degree of comfort level with a lot of traditional Republican donors with Jarchow than with Toney. Jarchow has shown he can get the resources to put together a credible campaign and the jury's still out on whether Toney can do the same."