MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson’s past as a Democrat is being used against him in a television ad that began airing Tuesday and mines footage of him speaking in support of abortion rights when he was head of the national College Democrats.
The ad, the first to use the long-circulating footage of Nicholson speaking at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, argues: “We can’t trust him.” The spot comes five weeks before the Aug. 14 primary, where Nicholson faces state Sen. Leah Vukmir. The winner will advance to face Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, an abortion-rights supporter, in November.
Nicholson’s campaign spokeswoman Ronica Cleary said that rather than focusing on defeating Baldwin, Vukmir was going negative. The ad came from the pro-Vukmir Wisconsin Next PAC, not Vukmir’s campaign. The PAC’s leader, Stephan Thompson, declined to comment other than to say the group was spending six figures on the ad.
Vukmir, a state lawmaker since 2003, is touting herself as a trusted conservative and has won the endorsement of the Wisconsin Republican Party and many state officeholders. Nicholson, a political newcomer and former Marine, is running as an outsider and has the backing of several prominent conservatives not in Wisconsin, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. He now says he opposes abortion.
“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,” Cleary said.
While Nicholson argues that his outsider status will make him a better ally to President Donald Trump, the new pro-Vukmir ad uses Nicholson’s appearance at the Democratic convention to say just the opposite.
“We care about a woman’s right to choose,” Nicholson says in footage from the convention floor shown in the ad. The narrator follows that up with, “That’s pro-choice.”
The spot includes Nicholson saying in an interview that “a woman’s right to choose must be protected.” It also shows footage of Hillary Clinton as the narrator says that Nicholson spoke at the Democratic National Convention.
Nicholson has not run from his past as a Democrat. He says that his experiences serving in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine, then working in the business world, led him to switch to becoming a Republican. He contends that process made his conservative values stronger.
Vukmir has pointed to her long conservative voting record as evidence that she can be trusted to deliver on a variety of issues, including restricting abortions. The new ad attempts to bring that point home by calling her a “consistent conservative” and closes with a picture of Vukmir standing next to Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
The ad is just the latest in a barrage of spending in the race, most of it from independent groups backing Nicholson. The Center for Responsive Politics says that nearly $12 million has been spent on the race so far by outside groups, with $6.3 million in pro-Nicholson ads compared with $1.5 million for Vukmir. An additional $3.2 million was spent on ads attacking Baldwin and just $1 million supporting her.
Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Brad Bainum said given the outside spending in the race in support of the Republicans, “nasty TV attack ads were a foregone conclusion.”
“Wisconsin Republicans are guaranteed to have a tough time consolidating around their eventual nominee, who will be bruised, out-of-money, and fully dependent on deep-pocketed outside special interests to buy them the general election,” Bainum said.
Also on Tuesday, Nicholson reported that his campaign raised $1 million over the past three months, bringing the total collected since he got in the race a year ago to $3.2 million. Vukmir has not yet reported her second quarter totals, but she’s lagged Nicholson in fundraising.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP
Sign up for “Politics in Focus,” a weekly newsletter showcasing the AP’s best political reporting from around the country leading up to the midterm elections: http://apne.ws/3Gzcraw