MILWAUKEE — State Sen. Leah Vukmir has won the official endorsement of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, a key stamp of approval from the party’s grassroots heading into a primary battle with businessman Kevin Nicholson.
The vote came at the state GOP’s annual convention Saturday in Milwaukee. Vukmir, R-Brookfield, and Nicholson, of Delafield, were seeking their party’s nod to face Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November.
Vukmir won the support of about 73 percent of delegates. The threshold to secure the endorsement was 60 percent.
“Let’s tell Tammy Baldwin it’s time for her to go home,” Vukmir told cheering GOP delegates after securing the endorsement.
Shortly after the vote, Vukmir’s campaign called on Nicholson to drop out. But Nicholson appears to have no such plans. He has led the Republican candidates in fundraising and in a public poll of the race released in March, and has support from deep-pocketed outside groups.
Nicholson spokesman Brandon Moody said the endorsement “doesn’t change the campaign.”
Vukmir responded that Nicholson has been “somewhat dismissive” of the party’s grassroots.
“It is a strong statement — this is a historic endorsement, and I’m proud of it,” Vukmir said.
The GOP nominee is determined by the outcome of the Aug. 14 primary.
The endorsement enables Vukmir, a close ally of Gov. Scott Walker, to boast the blessing of the party’s most devoted activists in the primary fight. It also gives her what the Republican Party of Wisconsin has described as “access to the party’s permanent campaign infrastructure,” though the party has not specified what that includes.
Vukmir, in her convention speech, touted her conservative record backing 2011’s Act 10 and other GOP laws in the Legislature. She cast herself as a stalwart GOP activist-turned-lawmaker firmly anchored in the state’s conservative movement.
“I have established myself as a conservative fighter,” Vukmir said. “I’ve seen it, I’ve done it and I’ll do it again in Washington.”
Nicholson, in his speech, said his military service and business experience make him a better pick to bring change to the Senate.
“As President Trump has proven ... it will take outsiders to push back on this political aristocracy in Washington,” he said.
Vukmir and her supporters had a much more noticeable presence in the convention hall Saturday morning. They could be seen canvassing the convention floor, buttonholing delegates in red “I Choose Leah” T-shirts.
Near the end of his speech, Nicholson struck a defiant tone against some top Republicans who aren’t supporting him.
“Much to the chagrin of some folks in this room, I never asked anyone’s permission to run for this office, and I never will,” Nicholson said.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin said in a statement that “given that Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson are dragging each other farther and farther into the mud, Sen. Ron Johnson and Wisconsin Republicans are rightly worried about repeating the same costly and expensive mistakes of their 2012 primary.”
Walker and other GOP state officials had a message for their most loyal supporters Saturday: Mobilize quickly, or everything we’ve done since 2011, when the GOP took control of the state Capitol, is at risk.
“We need to wake up. This election is going to be tougher than any one we’ve had so far,” Walker told supporters.