Eric Hovde

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde, a millionaire Madison businessman, launched a television ad Wednesday arguing for the immediate reopening of business in Wisconsin, the latest push by conservatives for a faster end to the state’s “safer at home” order.

Hovde looks directly at the camera and poses questions to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers about the extension of his order until May 26 to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Evers has been facing increasing pressure to reopen the state, including from the state chamber of commerce and Republican lawmakers. Protests have popped up to urge a faster reopening, with the largest one attracting about 1,500 people to the steps of the Capitol last month. The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday, and could rule any day, on a Republican-brought lawsuit that seeks to block the stay-at-home order.

The Hovde ad, along with a new website, are the first public projects of a new group he created called Our Future Matters. Hovde ran for the Republican nomination for Senate in 2012 but came second in the primary to former Gov. Tommy Thompson. Hovde, a banker, investor and developer, flirted with another run for Senate in 2018 but did not get in.

“It’s time to open Wisconsin given the data and the consequences of the shutdown,” Hovde said in a statement. “Decisions are being made to lock down our state that are having both severe negative economic and health consequences for our citizens.”

In the ad, Hovde questions the science behind the decision to issue the “safer at home order,” projections of infections for Wisconsin, concerns about hospital capacity and risks associated with high unemployment. More than 517,000 people have filed for unemployment in Wisconsin since mid-March.

Evers did not immediately return a message seeking comment. He and state health officials have said the longer stay-at-home order is the best approach to slowing the spread of the virus according to scientific principles.

The order originally shut down most nonessential businesses until April 24, but Evers extended it until May 26 with some loosening to allow for curbside services. He has a plan for reopening the state but several benchmarks must first be met, including a decline in new coronavirus cases and a capacity for hospitals to safely deal with patients.

The state Department of Health Services reports that at least 353 people in Wisconsin have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, and more than 8,500 people in Wisconsin are infected. The actual number of infections is thought to be far higher, because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.