PEWAUKEE/DELAFIELD -- State Senator Leah Vukmir, a close ally to Gov. Scott Walker, defeated Kevin Nicholson, a former Marine who cast himself as a political outsider in Wisconsin's Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
Vukmir advances to face Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin this fall.
Baldwin issued this statement:
“Wisconsinites want someone who will be in their corner and stand up to powerful special interests in Washington, not a bought-and-paid-for Senator. Leah Vukmir has a long record of putting her corporate special interest backers ahead of hardworking Wisconsin families, making the choice clear this November."
Vukmir won the endorsement of the Wisconsin Republican Party and the backing of most prominent GOP officeholders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. She ran as the proven conservative in the race, pointing to her long voting record in support of Republican priorities.
Both she and Nicholson ran as strong supporters of President Donald Trump.
Nicholson failed to overcome his past as a Democrat. He also lost despite millions more being spent on his behalf by outside groups.
Vukmir voted Tuesday morning at St. Luke's Church near Greenfield and Davidson in Brookfield. Her "victory party" was held at The Ingleside Hotel on Golf Road in Pewaukee. Before that, she spent the afternoon with family.
Vukmir spoke out after casting her ballot, indicating she was feeling confident.
"I feel great. I feel very good. I feel we’ve had the momentum all along and I don’t see it changing in the last week. We did a 32-city, 30-county tour in the last week, as you can tell by my voice. It’s talking to the grassroots activists and all the county party offices around the state. Having the endorsement of the Republican Party of Wisconsin is huge and as somebody who started as a grassroots mom and activist, somebody who walked into a headquarters when my daughter was in kindergarten..." said Vukmir.
She also spoke out on her support for President Donald Trump.
"I think it was a desperate, last-minute ploy that’s using out-of-state, special interest money -- the same group that trashed Donald Trump. It’s really ironic they are the ones that are going after me. Once Donald Trump became our candidate, I stuck with him. I signed the unity pledge. I really believe Harley Davidson is not only a point of pride for Wisconsin, but for our nation. From the beginning, I got into this to take on Tammy Baldwin, who I don’t believe represents our values here in Wisconsin. She has not been present. She doesn’t come to the state except when it’s time to campaign. I’ve gone to all 72 counties. I’ve put on 82,000 miles on my car and everywhere I go people say 'what has Tammy done for us? She has not been there for our veterans at the Tomah VA. She believes in single-player government run health care. They want someone who is a proven consistent conservative. That’s what I’ve done here in the state of Wisconsin. I’m proud of what we have done and proud of what I call this economic miracle. Anyone can talk about being a conservative. I can actually show you by my record and I think ultimately, the voters of Wisconsin are very savvy. We’ve gone through a lot of elections in our state and so I think they’re going to trust my record," said Vukmir.
Kevin Nicholson voted in Delafield Tuesday morning.
Nicholson spoke out after casting his ballot and also indicated he was feeling confident. The Marine veteran and former Democrat-turned-conservative's wife and kids joined him at the polling place. He said with a smile his kids have been able to see the entire state over the last year.
"Feel great. All the numbers look great. We are incredibly excited about tonight, but more excited about tomorrow and actually making this a contest of ideas with senator Baldwin. We’re going to win Nov. 6. This needs to be a contest of ideas. How do we fix health care? How do we think strategically about wars, to stop wars before they start. How do we fix illegal immigration and stop illegal immigration so that we can make a merit-based, economically sustainable immigration going forward. That’s what this election is really about. My experience made me the conservative I am today. My allegiance is to my country and constitution and the principles it was founded on. No one can ever question that and no one ever will. Not rightfully, so as I look to the election, this is about the future of our country. How do we make this country prosperous, secure for centuries to come? That’s where my mind is at and that’s where my focus will always be as their senator. We’re going to win today, but if for some reason we didn’t, I would absolutely support Senator Vukmir. This is about winning Nov. 6 and doing things different in Washington. We’re the campaign that can actually beat Tammy Baldwin. If you don’t take my advice for it, take Tammy Baldwin, take Tammy Baldwin’s word for it. She is already attacking me before the primary because she knows that we can beat her and we’re going to.
He also spoke out on Harley-Davidson and tariffs.
"What I have been saying to voters since Day 1 is 'if you look at Congress and you think they have it all figured out and it’s going great, you should vote for my primary opponent. If you think things are going great in Congress, you should vote for my general election opponent. If you’re like the rest of us and see that tangled mess in Washington and you realize how it could be fixed, then I’m your candidate,'" said Nicholson.
"Break down the tariffs that exist in places like China, like India. I think it is working. If you don’t take my word for it, look at the EU. They are already coming back to the negotiation table to get rid of tariffs. That’s good for Harley. That’s good for our farmers, all of our manufacturers, so let’s concentrate on breaking down our tariffs that have so limited the people of Wisconsin and hurt their ability to break abroad. We all want Harley to succeed. We want them to be able to sell in different markets around the world. That means getting rid of tariffs that have helped add cost to our manufacturing. That’s the president's objective and I think it is a good idea," said Nicholson.
Nicholson's watch party was held at the Rustic Manor on State Road 83 in Hartland.
Nicholson and Vukmir ran a brutal primary in which they focused as much on each other's faults as they did Baldwin. Vukmir's base of support was the Milwaukee suburbs, while Nicholson was strongest in out-state areas.
This race was expensive. $36.9 million was spent, according to the campaign finance tracker opensecrets.org. Of that amount, $17.8 million came from outside groups -- the most of any race in the country. Most of that outside spending was in support of Nicholson. Baldwin also spent $14.5 million, mostly to run positive ads on her record, but she also ran an attack ad criticizing Vukmir and Nicholson on jobs policy.
The primary was a classic air war versus ground war. Nicholson's big-money backers, like Illinois billionaire Dick Uihlein, spent millions to run TV ads. Nicholson touted his outsider status against Vukmir, a longtime state lawmaker.
But Vukmir had the endorsement of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, which provided Vukmir with party resources. The Wisconsin GOP even ran an ad for Vukmir in which U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy called the pro-Nicholson groups' attack ads against her "fake news." Vukmir said Nicholson, a former president of the College Democrats of America, lacks conservative credentials.
Both candidates signed a unity pledge to support the primary winner against Baldwin this fall.