MADISON — The Wisconsin Republican Party on Wednesday launched a statewide radio ad for Leah Vukmir, the U.S. Senate candidate who won the party's endorsement by a wide margin earlier this month.
The $29,000 statewide ad buy is the party's first in this race and comes 11 days after the party endorsed Vukmir instead of Kevin Nicholson at its state convention. It also follows Vukmir's tour of state GOP field offices, which have now been enlisted to help her defeat Nicholson in the Aug. 14 primary.
While the ad buy is small — pro-Nicholson forces have already spent more than $6 million to bolster his candidacy — it's an example of how the party's endorsement is being used to assist Vukmir.
She is a 15-year veteran of the Legislature and well known to party activists, 73 percent of whom voted to endorse her. Nicholson, a Delafield management consultant and former Democrat, is running his first statewide race, emphasizing his outsider status.
The winner of the primary will advance to face Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November. The national GOP believes it can unseat Baldwin and third-party groups have already spent $11.7 million on the effort, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It is the most expensive Senate race in the country so far.
The Wisconsin GOP radio ad calls Vukmir a "proven conservative" and highlights her close ties to Republican Gov. Scott Walker. It emphasizes that while Vukmir's parents were immigrants — they came to the U.S. from Greece — she supports President Donald Trump's proposal to build a border wall. It also notes that Vukmir is a "blue star mom" because her son is in the military.
Nicholson, a decorated Marine who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, has made his military service a central focus of his candidacy and uses the tag line "Send in the Marine."
Vukmir, in response to the new ad that came as a result of her endorsement, said Republican activists are what "make things happen."
"You can't win an election without committed volunteers knocking doors and making phone calls," she said.
Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Brad Bainum called the ad a "desperate attempt to stop an already divisive and expensive primary."
In other developments this week, Nicholson on Tuesday quietly submitted his nomination papers to the state Elections Commission to get on the ballot. Vukmir has until June 1 to submit hers.
Nicholson's campaign manager, John Vinson, also left with no explanation. Asked Tuesday about Vinson's departure, Nicholson's spokesman, Brandon Moody, said simply that Vinson was "moving on." There was no word of who may replace him.
Vinson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"Campaign is full steam ahead," Moody said.