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 TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment 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 BaldwinValedictorian says he was not allowed to use graduation speech to come out as gay Valedictorian says he was not allowed to use graduation speech to come out as gay Democrats highlight history-making LGBTQ lawmakers for Pride month 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 RyanIndiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Indiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Inside Biden's preparations for first debate MORE (R-Wis.) and former Republican National Committee chairman and White House chief of staff Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusOvernight Defense: Inside the 3B House defense policy bill | Senators take new tack to challenge Saudi arms sales | Raytheon, United Technologies to merge Overnight Defense: Inside the 3B House defense policy bill | Senators take new tack to challenge Saudi arms sales | Raytheon, United Technologies to merge Former Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus officially joins Navy 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 LeeOvernight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Overnight Defense: Latest on House defense bill markup | Air Force One, low-yield nukes spark debate | House Dems introduce resolutions blocking Saudi arms sales | Trump to send 1,000 troops to Poland Senators clinch votes to rebuke Trump on Saudi arms sale MORE (Utah) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control access face major obstacles Ocasio-Cortez and Cruz's dialogue shows common ground isn't just for moderates Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists 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.