Republicans Will Try to Find Unity After Senate Primary

By James Wigderson for Media Trackers

Wisconsin Republicans are hoping that an expensive dinner and reception for large GOP donors will bring unity to the U.S. Senate race after a divisive primary.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), will be the guests of honor at a minimum donation $1000 per person event to support the eventual Republican nominee for Senate in Wisconsin. The “event chairs” are Diane Hendricks, a major Republican donor backing state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), and Dick Uihlein, a major Republican donor backing Delafield business consultant Kevin Nicholson.

The dinner will be held on Friday, August 17 in Milwaukee, three days after the Republican primary for Senate. The winner of the Republican primary will face Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in November.

This is not the first time an attempt has been made to achieve some sort of unity in the GOP ranks in what has been a divisive Senate primary between Vukmir and Nicholson. Earlier this year, Johnson and the Republican Party of Wisconsin sponsored a “unity pledge” that required both candidates to agree to support the eventual winner of the Republican primary and to respect the rules of the state Republican convention as it considered making an endorsement.

Vukmir won the party’s endorsement with nearly 72 percent of the vote at the convention in May. She has also gotten the endorsements of many major Republican Party leaders in Wisconsin, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI1), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI5), Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI7) and Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI6).

Despite Vukmir receiving the party’s endorsement, Nicholson has continued to lead in fundraising and most polls, including the Marquette University Law School poll released on June 20.

The unity pledge has not prevented the two candidates or their supporters from criticizing each other. Especially their supporters.

In December, the national Club for Growth, an endorser of Nicholson backed by Uihlein, criticized Vukmir for supporting Gov. Scott Walker’s first budget after the passage of Act 10, claiming there was too much spending. This prompted angry denunciations of the organization from many Wisconsin conservatives and even Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.

A debate in April between Nicholson and Vukmir sponsored by Americans for Prosperity- Wisconsin remained free of personal attacks until the final moments when Vukmir said Republican voters should not trust “the unknown” when choosing their next senator.

Nicholson responded, saying she was clearly referring to him, and then accused “the Madison swamp” of losing a Wisconsin Supreme Court election. Nicholson also accused Vukmir of not respecting his military service as sufficient conservative credentials, which prompted a strong objection from Vukmir and a demand for an apology.

Both campaign’s surrogates have taken to the airwaves in recent days to attack the other candidate. Wisconsin Next PAC, funded by Hendricks, criticized Nicholson in an ad for things he said as president of the College Democrats about abortion and the party’s values. Club for Growth has an ad attacking Vukmir for evading an open records request, sending a letter to a judge on behalf of former state Rep. Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) who was convicted of fourth-degree sexual assault, and voting to increase per diems for expenses for state legislators.

Republicans may be hoping that the fundraiser will prevent what happened in 2012 when former Governor Tommy Thompson won a three-way Republican primary but lacked the campaign funding to respond to Baldwin’s attacks.

The money raised by the fundraiser will go to the Win Wisconsin Fund, a joint fundraising venture of the Wisconsin Senate Nominee Fund, Republican Party of Wisconsin, and the NRSC. Money allocated to the Wisconsin Senate Nominee Fund from the fundraiser will go directly to the party’s nominee, while the remaining money will be spent on behalf of the party’s nominee by the other two campaign organizations.

The $1,000 per person is the low end of the fundraiser which just gets a person into the reception. For $5,000 or more, the organizers will place a couple’s name in the program, they’ll receive two tickets for the dinner and the reception, and there is a photo opportunity. The donor tiers climb higher from there to the “Host” level of $50,000 for a table of eight at the dinner and the reception, plus a photo opportunity.