MADISON — With a holstered handgun next to her on a kitchen table, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir promises in her first television ad of the campaign released Monday to stand with President Donald Trump just as she did against death threats in Wisconsin.
Vukmir, a state senator, faces management consultant and political newcomer Kevin Nicholson in the Republican primary on Aug. 14. Nicholson is running as the outsider in the race and brands Vukmir as a career politician. She has tried to play up her conservative voting record and support for President Trump even though she did not initially endorse him.
The winner will take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November in a race that has attracted more spending by outside groups than any other in the country, based on a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Vukmir and other Republican legislators were the target of massive protests in 2011 for backing GOP Gov. Scott Walker's signature law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, including teachers, and forced them to pay more for their benefits.
Vukmir frequently talks on the campaign trail about death threats she said she received during that time. Her ad includes a recreation of a voicemail threat in which the caller says, "I know where you live and I'm going to come for you. You're going to die and I'm going to be the one who does it."
Her campaign spokesman, Mattias Gugel, said the voicemail in the ad was representative of multiple threats Vukmir had received, not any one in particular. Vukmir said in 2011 that she and another Republican state senator had received threats on the website Craigslist, but they did not describe then what exactly was said. After Vukmir released the ad Monday, Gugel provided a copy of a Facebook message she received from someone who called her a "sick (expletive)" and said "hope some nut with a gun shows you why there should be stricter gun laws. The only way you may get it!"
Gugel said the ad would run in multiple television markets starting Wednesday through June 29. He would not say how large the ad buy was.
Death threats against Walker and Republican lawmakers were reported in 2011 during the tumult of debate over the anti-union law. Walker has frequently talked about threats made back then against him and his family that were reported to police.
In the ad, Vukmir sits at a dimly lit kitchen table with the handgun next to her. She does not refer to the gun in the spot.
"Ever have someone threaten your life for something you believe in? I have," she says. "When Scott Walker and I beat the union bosses, cut billions in taxes and defunded Planned Parenthood, the left couldn't take it. With President Trump, we can do the same in Washington. Standing on principle takes guts, I know what it takes."
Vukmir's challenger Nicholson has yet to run an ad, but groups backing him have flooded the airwaves with them. More than $11.5 million has been spent by outside groups in the race already, with $6 million going to help Nicholson specifically, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Nicholson's campaign did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Brad Bainum did not address Vukmir's use of the handgun in the ad. Instead, he said she's spent her political career "selling out our state's working families in order to enrich corporate special interests and the big donors bankrolling her campaign."
Vukmir won the Wisconsin Republican Party's endorsement in May, which she says shows she has momentum headed into the August primary.