A Long Fight Ahead for the Wisconsin GOP Senate Nomination

State Sen. Vukmir wins state GOP endorsement, but Nicholson not backing down

With the Wisconsin GOP endorsement, state Sen. Leah Vukmir gains access to the state party’s campaign apparatus for the Republican primary. (Leah Vukmir for U.S. Senate via Facebook)

Wisconsin Senate candidate Leah Vukmir scored a crucial victory at the state GOP convention on Saturday, taking home the party’s endorsement with 72 percent of the vote.

It was a blow to Marine veteran and businessman Kevin Nicholson, the top spender so far in the Republican primary field.

Vukmir now has access to the state GOP’s infrastructure, including donor and voter rolls, staffing, and field offices.

“The heart of our party, our conservative grassroots, sent a deafening message today that it is time to unify behind Leah Vukmir and focus on the task of defeating Tammy Baldwin,” Vukmir’s campaign manager, Jess Ward, said in a statement Sunday. “It’s time for Kevin Nicholson to respect the will of the people that have delivered [Gov. Scott Walker] and [Sen. Ron Johnson] into office time and time again, and leave the race.”

But Nicholson, backed by a cadre of influential out-of-state donors and a base of nearly 9,000 donors in-state, is not bowing out that easily.

By the end of the first filing quarter of 2018, Nicholson had raised more than $2.3 million, nearly doubling Vukmir’s fundraising figures.

The fight for the Republican nomination ahead of the Aug. 14 primary could turn nasty if the race remains competitive.

Johnson, a Republican and the junior senator from the state, would be “happy to serve” with either Vukmir or Nicholson, he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Saturday.

But he warned them against beating up on each other before the winner faces Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in the general election. Baldwin is seeking a second term.

“I want them both to run a general election campaign against Tammy Baldwin and not each other,” Johnson said. “Let the better person win.”

So long as a brutal primary race does not drain enthusiasm for the general election, Republicans are optimistic they can flip the seat, one of 10 held by Democrats in states Trump won in 2016 that are up for re-election this November.

Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by less than 1 percent — just 23,000 votes. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Democratic.

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