Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) has defeated former Marine Kevin Nicholson (R) for the right to face Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in an uphill battle this fall.
Vukmir led Nicholson by 54 percent to 40 percent with 56 percent of the vote counted. The Associated Press has called the race.
Vukmir was heavily favored by Wisconsin’s powerful GOP establishment, winning the state party endorsement early on, getting strong support from many of the state’s powerful right-wing talk radio hosts, and winning backing from many elected officials including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). While Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) stayed officially neutral in the race, his son works on Vukmir’s campaign and his wife backed her.
But Nicholson, a former head of the College Democrats of America, had one valuable supporter: Deep-pocketed hard right-wing donor Dick Uihlein spent more than $10 million through super-PACs to back him and knock her down.
She starts her race as a heavy underdog against Baldwin, who has led her by high single digits in most recent private and public polls. Republicans hope that if Walker is winning comfortably this fall this race could become competitive — especially if Uihlein can be convinced to open up his wallet for her, and other wealthy Republicans decide to come in. Right now it looks like a long shot — and national Republicans are unlikely to prioritize the race given how many others appear like better shots for them this fall — but Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) looked like a dead man running at this point in the 2016 campaign before winning reelection.
Vukmir and Baldwin were quick out the gate to attack one another.
“Wisconsin needs a senator who represents and will work for the people who make our state great — not the far left or out-of-touch elites,” Vukmir said in a statement. “Sen. Tammy Baldwin has been a disaster our state.”
Baldwin fired back.
“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,” Baldwin said in a statement. “Leah Vukmir has a long record of putting her corporate special interest backers ahead of hardworking Wisconsin families, making the choice clear this November.”