Wisconsin GOP Senate hopeful hit by ad highlighting Democratic past

Wisconsin GOP Senate hopeful hit by ad highlighting Democratic past
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A super PAC backing Republican Senate candidate Leah Vukmir launched a new TV ad hitting her primary opponent Kevin Nicholson for his past as a Democrat and support for abortion rights.

Wisconsin Next PAC’s ad features clips of Nicholson, a Marine veteran and businessman, speaking at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. It highlights excerpts of his speech when he says “a woman’s right to choose must be protected” and the “Democratic Party shares our values.”

Nicholson has repeatedly addressed his past as a Democrat and former president of the College Democrats of America before switching to the Republican Party. He now opposes abortion.

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A Democratic source told The Hill that there’s so far $438,205 behind the ad in the Milwaukee and Green Bay media markets.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE needs an ally he can trust in the U.S. Senate, that’s not Kevin Nicholson,” the ad’s narrator says. “Fortunately there’s a consistent conservative running for US Senate: Leah Vukmir.”

Nicholson’s campaign pushed back on the ad, criticizing Vukmir for going negative on a fellow Republican instead of focusing on the general election against incumbent Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinDems seek to rebuild blue wall in Rust Belt contests The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump Poll: Democrats inch forward in Wisconsin MORE (D-Wis.).

“The real choice in this primary is between insider Leah Vukmir whose claim to fame is, ‘I vote yes when I'm told,’ or a conservative political outsider, businessman and Marine in Kevin Nicholson,” Nicholson spokeswoman Ronica Cleary said in a statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Vukmir's campaign manager Jess Ward responded in a statement, saying that "we cannot control the ads that outside groups run" and touting the state legislator's record.

"That said, if Nicholson or any of his team actually spent time in Wisconsin, they’d know that Leah taking orders is downright laughable," Ward said. "Leah is a strong woman who has constantly pushed leadership to advance conservative pro-life, pro-taxpayer and pro-gun policies. Kevin’s record is the opposite. He even says so in his own words.”

Nicholson and Vukmir will square off in Wisconsin's Aug. 14 primary. It has been a brutal campaign with millions in outside spending flooding the state.

Vukmir, a state senator who's fashioned herself as a hard-line conservative, has gained a number of powerful endorsements from the state’s Republican Party, including from Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow does the 25th Amendment work? Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act GOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign MORE (R-Wis.) and former Republican National Committee chairman and White House chief of staff Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusBannon says right must support ‘RINOs’ CNN: Trump searching for Woodward sources in White House Woodward book rocks Trump White House MORE.

Wisconsin Next PAC has received funding from Wisconsin billionaire donor Diane Hendricks.

But Nicholson has his own heavy hitters behind him.

A number of top conservative groups like the Club for Growth have endorsed him, as well as GOP Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeReexamining presidential power over national monuments Utah group complains Mia Love should face criminal penalties for improper fundraising Senate approves 4B spending bill MORE (Utah) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate NY Times, McCabe give Trump perfect cover to fire Rosenstein, Sessions Live coverage: Cruz, O'Rourke clash in Texas debate MORE (Texas). And GOP mega-donor Richard Uihlein has poured in millions to boost Nicholson.

On the same day as the ad debuted, Nicholson's campaign announced that he raised more than a million in the second fundraising quarter of the year, though it didn’t include its cash on hand. Vukmir’s campaign has yet to release its second-quarter numbers.

The most recent public polling has Nicholson in the lead. A Marquette University poll from last month had him leading Vukmir by 5 points.

The eventual GOP nominee will go on to face Baldwin, who’s already faced a deluge of spending from GOP outside groups looking to make a dent in the state.

Republicans are looking to capitalize on their momentum from 2016, when President Trump won the state by less than a point.

But Democrats are still slightly favored to hold onto the seat, with that same Marquette poll showing Baldwin ahead of both Nicholson and Vukmir in head-to-head match-ups.

Updated at 2:40 p.m.