House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is choosing sides in his state’s hotly contested GOP Senate primary.
Ryan and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) made a joint endorsement of Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) Monday morning, backing her over former Marine Kevin Nicholson (R).
“Leah is a longtime friend of ours and she has been a conservative partner among grassroots Republicans for years. She has proven that in the face of opposition, she will never waver and will work relentlessly for the causes that she believes in,” the pair wrote in an op-ed on RightWisconsin, saying she “stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Governor Scott Walker to advance critical reforms that would create jobs and improve our overall economy.”
The duo join much of Wisconsin’s Republican establishment in backing Vukmir over Nicholson, a former Democrat who has re-emerged as a hardline conservative in the race. The state Republican Party has officially endorsed Vukmir. She also has the tacit support of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who pledged to stay neutral in the race but whose son is working for Vukmir and whose wife has endorsed her.
But Nicholson has the backing of deep-pocketed conservative donor Dick Uihlein, a powerful figure in the state. A recent Marquette University found him with a 37 percent to 32 percent lead in race.
Whoever wins the late summer primary is expected to face an uphill battle against Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Republicans had initially seen this race as a tossup, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) didn’t even mention it when listing this year’s top competitive races in a recent interview, and recent polling has found Baldwin with a lead in the high single digits. Most GOP strategists believe Vukmir would stand a better chance, but there’s not full consensus on that point.