MEMO: The State of Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Senate Primary

May 10, 2018

TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Democratic Party of Wisconsin
RE: The State of Wisconsin’s Republican U.S. Senate Primary
Heading into this weekend’s Republican Party of Wisconsin convention, the U.S. Senate primary is not shaping up the way Republicans planned — instead, it’s devolved into the combative, messy primary that they’ve feared for over a year.
Kevin Nicholson and Leah Vukmir are dragging each other further and further into the mud with personal attacks and questions about each other’s records — all while championing the agendas of their megadonor backers.
Nasty GOP Primary Attacks Sow Deep Divisions
Kevin Nicholson and Leah Vukmir have spurred an expensive, nasty primary. The matchup is defined by deeply personal and petty attacks lobbed back and forth between Nicholson and Vukmir, their campaign staff and supporters, and even their family members. Here’s a short recap:

  • Last September, state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Vukmir supporter, slammed Nicholson as an untrustworthy, unknown quantity: “It’s a roll of the dice with Kevin…You don’t know who he really is.”
  • Then, in October, Vukmir suggested that Nicholson run for a lower office to prove himself, before running for U.S. Senate.
  • A few weeks later, after he accused Speaker Paul Ryan of having a “light footprint” in Wisconsin, Nicholson feuded with former Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow, a Vukmir supporter, who attacked Nicholson as an opportunist, saying, “I just asked him why he came back to Wisconsin to run for the Senate and presidency…I understand that’s what his goal is.”
  • Then, in January, Vukmir and Nicholson “spar[red] hours after signing the [party’s] ‘unity pledge.’”
  • Later that month, Vukmir supporter and former RNC Chair Reince Priebus addressed Nicholson’s trustworthiness directly: “I just find this all too convenient, all too contrived and I just don’t buy it.”
  • In March, Nicholson drew Gov. Scott Walker’s family into the fray by refusing to shake hands with Alex Walker. When this became public, Nicholson accused First Lady Tonette Walker of lying about him; all the while, Vukmir was busy attacking Nicholson as a “D.C. candidate.”
  • During their first debate in late April, Leah attacked Kevin’s untrustworthiness: “We can’t take chances on the unknown” and “We know more about Kevin’s track record as a Democrat than we do about his track record as a Republican.” Vukmir is correct to point out that Nicholson has been caught lying about his background — repeatedly.
  • Heading into the Republican convention, Kevin has been facing significant backlash from veterans in both parties after he asserted that his military service “did not mean much” to Vukmir, and subsequently questioned the “cognitive thought process” of veterans who don’t share his own political viewpoint.

Both Vukmir and Nicholson saddled with a lagging party brand and a lack of enthusiasm in the Wisconsin GOP base, demonstrated by a string of losses this year at the state and local level. That’s why Eric Hovde joined a long list of other prominent Wisconsin Republicans who have bowed out, including: U.S. Representative Sean Duffy, former RNC chairman and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, State Senator Scott Fitzgerald, Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, State Representative Dale Kooyenga, Nicole Schneider, Tim Michels and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Wisconsin Republicans are rightly worried about a repeat of the costly and expensive 2012 race, which left their nominee — former four-term governor Tommy Thompson — bruised and broke heading into the general election, and Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson’s mutual disdain has done little to put their concerns to rest.
Tammy Baldwin is This Cycle’s Top Targeted Senator
Despite the lackluster performance of Kevin Nicholson and Leah Vukmir, their megadonors and powerful special interest backers are spending an “unprecedented” amount of money to buy themselves a U.S. Senate seat.
Out-of-state powerful special interests have already poured in nearly $10 million to beat Tammy. That is more than twice the amount that has been spent against any other Democratic senator up for re-election.  
As the New York Times put it, Tammy Baldwin has emerged as the top target in the 2018 midterms,” and the fight may become the most expensive Wisconsin Senate race ever.
Nicholson and Vukmir: Bought and Paid For By Powerful Special Interests
The torrent of outside spending is no surprise — corporate special interests have a lot to gain by buying a U.S. Senate seat for either Vukmir or Nicholson, and both candidates are stuck with the agendas of their billionaire puppeteers.

  • Nicholson and Vukmir put their stamp on the failed Republican healthcare plan that would raise costs for working families, end protections for people with pre-existing conditions and allow insurance companies to charge seniors thousands of dollars more.
  • Nicholson’s backers, Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, have spent more than $5 million to support him, and are committed to gutting Medicare and Social Security.
  • Vukmir is running from her record as a board member of a lobbying organization after spending her career carrying their water in the legislature.

 One thing is clear: Nicholson and Vukmir are running to protect the worst of Washington’s special interest corruption that leaves hardworking Wisconsinites behind.
And those powerful special interests will continue to flood Wisconsin’s airwaves in order to buy themselves a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Tammy Baldwin Does Right by Wisconsin
Meanwhile, Tammy Baldwin does right by Wisconsin no matter what it takes, and no matter what powerful interests stand in the way.
That’s why she worked with Republicans and Democrats on Buy America requirements to use American made iron and steel and to bring jobs back from overseas. She fought against the opioid epidemic that has devastated so many of our communities and expanded addiction treatment for those in need. And Tammy’s been a leader on protecting healthcare for people with pre-existing conditions and in standing up to the drug companies to push for lower prices.
Tammy knows we have to get the money out of politics in Washington. That’s because she listens to the people of Wisconsin, not the special interests.

For more information and specific questions, contact Brad Bainum (