Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir launches bid for U.S. Senate, forcing GOP primary

MILWAUKEE— Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir launched her U.S. Senate campaign Thursday, casting herself as the only true conservative in a primary contest that includes a former Democrat.

Vukmir's long-expected entry guarantees a Republican primary in the race to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Former Marine Kevin Nicholson, who was national head of the College Democrats of America in 2000, is already running as a Republican and Madison businessman Eric Hovde is considering getting into the race.

In an interview Thursday, September 7th, Vukmir said she would point to her long public record as she contrasts herself with Nicholson and Hovde, neither of whom has ever been in office.

"We need somebody to get to Washington and hit the ground running," Vukmir said. "We don’t have time for people to develop their legs in Washington, D.C."

Leah Vukmir

Vukmir said she would offer a stark contrast from Baldwin, who was elected to the seat in 2012 after more than a decade in the U.S. House.

"I definitely will be different than Tammy Baldwin," Vukmir said. "Not many people can name anything that Tammy Baldwin has done. That's not the same with my record."

Vukmir, 59, is a registered nurse from Brookfield, first elected to the Assembly in 2002 and then the Senate in 2010. She is a member of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and has been an outspoken supporter of repealing the prevailing wage law, expanding taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school students and those with disabilities and crime victims' rights.

Nicholson has faced questions about his voting history, having registered as a Democrat in North Carolina in 2005 and voting in that state's 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

In May, FOX6 News revealed that North Carolina's voter records didn't line up with Nicholson's claim that he had voted "no preference" in that primary election.

Thursday, Nicholson's campaign drew its own contrast between the Marine veteran and Vukmir.

"Wisconsin Republicans know it will take a conservative outsider like Kevin Nicholson to take back Washington from career politicians like Senator Baldwin, and to put an end to her disastrous record," said Michael Antonpolous, a Nicholson spokesman.

Vukmir has been working for months traveling the country laying the groundwork for the expected Senate run. She has landed Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks as her finance co-chair and Mary Kohler will be on her campaign committee. Kohler is the widow of Terry Kohler, a Republican activist who was president of Windway Capital Corp.

Nicholson won the early endorsement of national conservative group Club for Growth and a super PAC backing him fueled by a $2 million contribution from former Uline Corp. founder Richard Uihlein reported in July that it had raised $3.5 million.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin

Baldwin is in her first term and viewed as a top GOP target nationally as they look to retain majority control of the Senate. She was elected in 2012, the same year then-President Barack Obama carried Wisconsin on his way to re-election. In 2018, Baldwin will be running on the same ballot as Walker as he seeks re-election to a third term.

Wisconsin Democrats blasted Vukmir, noting her position on the board of directors at the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

"Billionaires back her because she’s served as a national leader of a billionaires special interest group, introducing their legislation in Wisconsin and hurting Wisconsin families," said Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairwoman Martha Laning. "She prioritizes tax breaks for billionaires and corporations over working people."

Scott Spector, a spokesman for Baldwin's campaign, said "Tammy's fighting for Wisconsin, not the wealthy and Washington special interests."

Leah Vukmir