Priebus backs Vukmir in Wisconsin GOP primary

Priebus backs Vukmir in Wisconsin GOP primary
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Former White House chief of staff Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusFounder of veterans group says Trump Jr. can join the military if he 'really wants to understand what sacrifice is all about' Mulvaney faces uncertain future after public gaffes Politicon announces lineup including Comey, Hannity, Priebus MORE is endorsing state Sen. Leah Vukmir in the tough Wisconsin GOP Senate primary.

The backing from the former Republican National Committee chairman and one of the most noteworthy Republicans in Wisconsin is a big get for Vukmir, who is locked in an increasingly-harsh primary against Kevin Nicholson, a Marine Corps veteran who is new to Republican politics.

Speaking on 1130 WISN radio in Wisconsin, Priebus, a former Wisconsin GOP chairman, lauded Vukmir as "constantly pushing a conservative agenda" and said she would match up well against Democratic Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinIt's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems unveil impeachment measure; Vindman splits GOP The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems shift strategy on impeachment vote MORE.

"She was there every step of the way building what we built in Wisconsin," Priebus said.

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"She deserves credit but she's highly qualified and without question the best choice for U.S. Senate."

In explaining his endorsement, Priebus blasted Nicholson's past as a Democrat — he served as the head of the College Democrats of America before his experiences prompted him to switch parties. Priebus framed Nicholson as a young man in a hurry, calling on him to prove his GOP chops before jumping into a major statewide race.

"When you go from president of the College Democrats to wanting to be the U.S. senator for the Republican Party, there should be some in-between time, in that particular case, to say maybe you ought to raise a few dollars for [House Speaker] Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea Duncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden MORE's group. Maybe you ought to raise a few dollars for the party ... and show us this conversion is actually real," Priebus said.

"I just find this all too convenient, all too contrived, and I just don't buy it."

The rare endorsement from Priebus, who has largely remained out of the spotlight since leaving the White House last year, underscores the intense jockeying between Nicholson and Vukmir ahead of the Aug. 14 primary.

Nicholson stormed out of the gate with endorsements from influential conservative groups like the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks and has won backing from lawmakers like Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSunday talk shows: Lawmakers gear up ahead of Monday's House Judiciary hearing Trade deal talks expand as Congress debates tech legal shield Sanders meets with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred MORE (R-Texas). He also won the backing of former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, an endorsement that's since lost its luster after Bannon's spat with President TrumpDonald John TrumpPence: It's not a "foregone conclusion" that lawmakers impeach Trump FBI identifies Pensacola shooter as Saudi Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Trump calls Warren 'Pocahontas,' knocks wealth tax MORE.

Vukmir, who has tried to frame herself as the conservative alternative to Nicholson, has the backing from a handful of popular conservative talk show hosts in the state and a number of state lawmakers.

Signs already point to a tough primary. Big-money donors are lining up behind both candidates in what could turn into an arms race and the two candidates have been frosty towards each other at times. Earlier this year, the two campaigns agreed to sign a unity pledge promising to support the party's nominee in the general election.

But tensions flared just hours later, after Trump issued a statement blasting Bannon. Vukmir's campaign called on Nicholson to disavow the Bannon endorsement. In response, Nicholson's camp chided Vukmir for having tried and failed to secure the endorsement.

Nicholson has the fundraising advantage coming into 2018, according to figures put out by both campaigns — Nicholson doubled up Vukmir in fundraising over 2017's final quarter, raising $800,000 to her $400,000. His campaign has announced it has $500,000 on hand, while a Vukmir spokesman told The Hill she will report a similar number in her bank account.

Both sit far behind Baldwin, who raised $2.8 million and has $7 million stored in her campaign account.

Updated at 12:06 p.m.