The first Marquette Law School poll of 2018 has given Wisconsinites an early indication of where things stand in the Republican Senate primary. When it comes to taking on Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, they both have good news. Baldwin’s popularity is declining in Wisconsin. In March of last year, she had a net favorability rating of five (40 percent favorable to 35 percent unfavorable). Now her rating is a net unfavorable of two (37 percent favorable to 39 percent unfavorable).
As for the primary between themselves, we have a long road ahead. Currently, businessman and Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson is ahead with 28 percent. His opponent, Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, has 19 percent. A large chunk of Republican primary voters, 49 percent, are undecided about who they will support. This isn’t a surprise so early in the race. The poll showed that 60 percent of primary voters haven’t heard enough about Nicholson and 58 percent about Vukmir. When it comes to voters who just don’t know about either candidate yet, both candidates get 25 percent.
That means both candidates will have to campaign more vigorously. What I find most striking about the race is how different the strategies between Vukmir and Nicholson are.
Nicholson was unknown to many conservative social circles until last year. Nevertheless, he seems to have strong connections to Washington D.C. Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton was one of the first to endorse Nicholson, doing so in August with the intention of generously funding his campaign.
Sen. Leah Vukmir’s hyper-partisanship detrimental for Wisconsin citizensOn Feb. 1, six female Wisconsin State Representatives of published a letter highlighting the ways in which Gov. Scott Walker and Read…
In October, former presidential strategist Steve Bannon endorsed him as part of his “war on the Republican establishment.” At the time, Bannon was still executive chairman of the Breitbart News Network, and the assault on Vukmir began. Yet, parading endorsements from Bannon can prove to be dangerous. Bannon stepped down from Breitbart after he was critical of Trump and his family. Bannon added nothing of any value to Nicholson’s campaign.
The attacks made by Breitbart on Vukmir were perfidious. It all amounted to calling her an establishment candidate because she supported Senator Marco Rubio for president in 2016 (insert sarcastic gasp here). The idea Rubio was an establishment candidate is simply false. If you look at his record, he votes like a Freedom Caucus member. Nicholson has since distanced himself from Bannon after his critical comments of Trump.
The Club for Growth, an organization backing Nicholson, has also found trouble with attacking Vukmir. They attacked her as a “RINO” (Republican in name only), which is completely ridiculous. Vukmir has been one of the most conservative legislators in Wisconsin, leading the way on everything from tax policy to abortion. This led to a backlash from the state’s conservative talk radio hosts. In the end, the only damage caused by the Club for Growth’s hit piece was on the Club for Growth.
One thing Nicholson’s D.C. allies are certainly good for is money. His current nine-point lead can be attributed to the $3.1 million spent on him, compared to just $90,000 for Vukmir. On one hand, the Nicholson camp should be happy they have a lead. On the other, it’s not a blowout lead. Vukmir isn’t too far behind, and she’s certainly fighting back.
Whereas Nicholson is relying on support from inside the Beltway, Vukmir’s hard work with fighting for conservative principles has paid off in the form of a mountain support from state legislators, activists and many young conservatives on college campuses. She now has over 400 endorsements. A Students Choose Leah coalition has been formed, with a total of 140 college students. Some of the most prominent endorsements include First Lady Tonette Walker and former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
This level support gives the Vukmir camp the opportunity to mobilize legions of conservatives as the primary season continues. Perhaps I’m biased because I support her, but I believe Vukmir can easily overcome the current deficit and attract most of the undecided voters. Additionally, the Marquette poll had a wide margin of error and a very small sample of respondents.
While Nicholson has had a financial edge at the moment, Vukmir should not be counted out. Some of her supporters have started a Wisconsin based-super PAC called Wisconsin Next, which will help to ensure an even playing field. Some Wisconsinites might also find the influx of money from outside the state into a primary annoying, pushing them towards Vukmir. Why should D.C. interfere in the business Wisconsin Republicans want to carry out themselves?
Wisconsin Republicans are going to have a very crucial choice to make it when it comes to voting in the primary. It’s shaping up to be a battle between Wisconsin’s conservative base and Washington’s political class. It is important for every voter to think closely about both candidates and support who they believe will advance a conservative agenda in the Senate.
John Graber ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in history and political science.