State Sen. Leah Vukmir won Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary in Wisconsin, notching a victory for the state GOP. Vukmir’s win sets up another opportunity for Wisconsin Republicans to take down one of the last remaining high-profile Democrats in the state.
Vukmir led Marine veteran and businessman Kevin Nicholson 54 percent to 40 percent, when The Associated Press called the race with 56 percent of precincts reporting. She will now take on vulnerable incumbent Tammy Baldwin, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary.
GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein dumped millions on behalf of Nicholson, which raised questions whether such outside money would come in for Vukmir if she won. Republicans appear to be attempting to quell any concerns about party divisions by hosting a unity fundraiser Friday featuring both Uihlein and Diane Hendricks, a billionaire businesswoman who supported Vukmir.
The Wisconsin Senate race has attracted nearly $18 million in outside spending, the most of any Senate race so far, according to OpenSecrets.org. Along with the millions spent in the GOP primary, several million have also been spent attacking Baldwin.
The challenge for Vukmir is whether she can raise her own money to compete with Baldwin’s sizable war chest. A campaign with its own fortune can be an asset even if there is a deluge of outside spending, since candidates get better rates on television advertisements.
Baldwin had $6.7 million in cash on hand at the end of the pre-primary reporting period on July 25, according to her campaign. Vukmir ended the same period with $430,000 in the bank.
Another key question following the primary is whether the national GOP will be involved in the race. Republicans largely abandoned Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson’s re-election campaign in 2016, but he ended up scoring a surprising win that fall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in various media interviews has noticeably not named Wisconsin as a top race this cycle.
The conservative Club for Growth Action did assist Johnson in 2016, and backed Nicholson in the primary. David McIntosh, the president of CFG Action Wisconsin, said recently that the group would still direct its donors to Vukmir if she won, but he was not sure if it would endorse her.
National Republicans are expecting the Wisconsin Senate race to pick up. One GOP operative involved in Senate races deemed it the “most underrated race of the cycle so far.”
Republicans see Baldwin as a prime target because of some of her more liberal positions. She is the only Democrat running in a state that President Donald Trump won who signed on as a co-sponsor of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill. (Trump carried the Badger State by 1 point in 2016, the first GOP presidential nominee to do so since 1984.)
Republicans also note the strength of the state party, which scored another victory Tuesday with Vukmir’s win. Vukmir had the Wisconsin GOP’s endorsement as well as support from the state’s Republican congressional delegation, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
Baldwin has said she intends to continue to focus on her work combating the opioid crisis and supporting American industries. She frequently touts her “Buy America” legislation, which would require that federal infrastructure projects use American steel and other materials.
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