Businesswoman Mary Burke easily won the Democratic gubernatorial primary Tuesday to face Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the fall, setting up what will be one of the most competitive and closely watched state races in the country.
Burke, who is running for her first statewide office, defeated state Rep. Brett Hulsey in the Democratic primary for governor. Burke advances to face Walker in the Nov. 4 general election.
The incumbent Republican is in a tight race for reelection, amid lingering unrest in the state over Walker's overhaul of unions' collective-bargaining ability.
Burke, who touts her business record, is Wisconsin Democrats' attempt at a reboot after their worst losses in recent history. They lost to Walker in the 2010 governor's race, again to him in the recall and to Walker's Republican allies in the Legislature. The latest polls peg the race as a dead heat, and groups on both sides are investing millions of dollars in the contest.
Meanwhile, in primaries in two other states, GOP voters in Connecticut set up a rematch of the state’s 2010 governor's race and a Minnesota county commissioner emerged from a crowded field to win the Republican primary to take on Gov. Mark Dayton.
In Wisconsin, Hulsey made waves earlier this year when he announced and then backed out of a plan to distribute Ku Klux Klan-style hoods at the Republican state convention. He later admitted it was a stunt to bring attention to his campaign.
Burke -- a former top executive at Wisconsin's Trek Bicycles -- had all but ignored Hulsey throughout the campaign, even refusing to debate him.
Walker is seeking re-election to an office he's already won twice — first in 2010, and again in a 2012 recall election. Walker has also been floated as a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016.
The latest Marquette Law School Poll found that the race between Burke and Walker is a dead heat.
In Connecticut, Republicans selected Tom Foley, a businessman who served as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, to face off against Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy in November. Malloy, who is running for his second term, did not face a primary challenger.
The race will look familiar to Connecticut residents, as Foley was also the GOP’s nominee four years ago. Malloy narrowly won that election by 6,404 votes out of 1.1 million votes cast.
Foley defeated the state’s Senate Minority Leader John McKinney to win the GOP nomination. Foley had 57 percent of the votes against 43 percent for McKinney, with 59 percent of precincts reporting.
"Change is on the way. Change is coming to Connecticut. Dan Malloy had his chance," Foley told about 100 supporters gathered for his victory speech in Waterbury.
Early polling data compiled by Real Clear Politics shows Foley with a slight lead over Malloy in November.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Hennepin County commissioner Jeff Johnson captured the Republican nomination for Minnesota governor over three major rivals.
Tuesday's victory means Johnson advances to a fall showdown with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. It's also a validation for the Republican Party, which endorsed Johnson this spring before what turned into the party's first competitive primary for governor in 20 years.
Johnson beat former House Speaker Kurt Zellers, business executive Scott Honour and former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert. Johnson benefited from the phone calls, canvassing and other outreach that came with party support and helped make up for better fundraising by some of his rivals.
It is Johnson's second bid for statewide office. He lost in a 2006 campaign for attorney general. He has previously served in the Legislature.
Minnesota Republicans also selected businessman Mike McFadden to take on Sen. Al Franken in November.
McFadden defeated retiring state Rep. Jim Abeler and several lesser-known candidates in Tuesday's Republican primary.
A political newcomer, McFadden was the front-runner after he was endorsed at the party convention in April. He argued he was the only candidate who could raise enough money to beat Franken.
He criticized the first-term senator as being too close to Obama and for his support of the president's health care overhaul.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.