James Wigderson first reported:
Wisconsin Republicans are hoping that an expensive dinner and reception for large GOP donors will bring unity to the U.S. Senate race after a divisive primary.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), will be the guests of honor at a minimum donation $1000 per person event to support the eventual Republican nominee for Senate in Wisconsin. The “event chairs” are Diane Hendricks, a major Republican donor backing state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield), and Dick Uihlein, a major Republican donor backing Delafield business consultant Kevin Nicholson.
The dinner will be held on Friday, August 17 in Milwaukee, three days after the Republican primary for Senate. The winner of the Republican primary will face Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in November.
This is not the first time an attempt has been made to achieve some sort of unity in the GOP ranks in what has been a divisive Senate primary between Vukmir and Nicholson. Earlier this year, Johnson and the Republican Party of Wisconsin sponsored a “unity pledge” that required both candidates to agree to support the eventual winner of the Republican primary and to respect the rules of the state Republican convention as it considered making an endorsement.
Vukmir won the party’s endorsement with nearly 72 percent of the vote at the convention in May. She has also gotten the endorsements of many major Republican Party leaders in Wisconsin, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI1), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI5), Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI7) and Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI6).
Despite Vukmir receiving the party’s endorsement, Nicholson has continued to lead in fundraising and most polls, including the Marquette University Law School poll released on June 20.
The unity pledge has not prevented the two candidates or their supporters from criticizing each other. Especially their supporters.
In December, the national Club for Growth, an endorser of Nicholson backed by Uihlein, criticized Vukmir for supporting Gov. Scott Walker’s first budget after the passage of Act 10, claiming there was too much spending. This prompted angry denunciations of the organization from many Wisconsin conservatives and even Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.
A debate in April between Nicholson and Vukmir sponsored by Americans for Prosperity- Wisconsin remained free of personal attacks until the final moments when Vukmir said Republican voters should not trust “the unknown” when choosing their next senator.
Nicholson responded, saying she was clearly referring to him, and then accused “the Madison swamp” of losing a Wisconsin Supreme Court election. Nicholson also accused Vukmir of not respecting his military service as sufficient conservative credentials, which prompted a strong objection from Vukmir and a demand for an apology.
Both campaign’s surrogates have taken to the airwaves in recent days to attack the other candidate. Wisconsin Next PAC, funded by Hendricks, criticized Nicholson in an ad for things he said as president of the College Democrats about abortion and the party’s values. Club for Growth has an ad attacking Vukmir for evading an open records request, sending a letter to a judge on behalf of former state Rep. Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) who was convicted of fourth-degree sexual assault, and voting to increase per diems for expenses for state legislators.
Republicans may be hoping that the fundraiser will prevent what happened in 2012 when former Governor Tommy Thompson won a three-way Republican primary but lacked the campaign funding to respond to Baldwin’s attacks.
The money raised by the fundraiser will go to the Win Wisconsin Fund, a joint fundraising venture of the Wisconsin Senate Nominee Fund, Republican Party of Wisconsin, and the NRSC. Money allocated to the Wisconsin Senate Nominee Fund from the fundraiser will go directly to the party’s nominee, while the remaining money will be spent on behalf of the party’s nominee by the other two campaign organizations.
The $1,000 per person is the low end of the fundraiser which just gets a person into the reception. For $5,000 or more, the organizers will place a couple’s name in the program, they’ll receive two tickets for the dinner and the reception, and there is a photo opportunity. The donor tiers climb higher from there to the “Host” level of $50,000 for a table of eight at the dinner and the reception, plus a photo opportunity.
George Mitchell added:
When Sen. Ron Johnson passes Sen. Tammy Baldwin in the corridors of the U.S. Senate, he likely understands the big smile on her face. Baldwin has to be pleased that her re-election chances are buoyed by the intra-party squabble between supporters of state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) and Kevin Nicholson.
Not a minute too soon, Wisconsin’s senior senator has stepped in to organize a post-primary unity fundraiser featuring Diane Hendricks and Dick Uihlein. Hendricks sponsors a Super-PAC that supports Vukmir, while Uihlein is Nicholson’s primary patron.
Their joint attendance at the August 17 event is a reminder that (1) only one outcome matters to conservatives, namely, the November election of either Vukmir or Nicholson and (2) as in 2012, that outcome is threatened by the back-and-forth slings and arrows cast by supporters of GOP candidates.
Six years ago Baldwin was the main beneficiary of a three-way fight between Eric Hovde, former Rep. Mark Neumann, and former Governor Tommy Thompson. Thompson, the winner, emerged cash-poor and drained by a divisive primary. Baldwin, meanwhile accumulated a sizable treasury and entered the general election campaign largely unscathed by serious GOP attacks.
There were early signs that this year would produce a similar dynamic. With their eyes almost solely focused on winning the primary, supporters of both candidates challenged the core legitimacy of the other’s credentials.
In the case of Team Vukmir, it has been unable to get past Nicholson’s history as a Democrat. Clips of him speaking at the Democratic convention show exactly what? That his current views are not valid? That he’s not a “real” Republican?
And then there’s the Club for Growth. Instead of emphasizing Nicholson’s strengths, it unleashed laughable RINO attacks on Vukmir. Is this history repeating itself? In 2012 the Club poisoned the waters with attacks on Hovde and Thompson aimed at bolstering Neumann. In many respects, the Club owns Tammy Baldwin. She should name her Senate conference room in its honor if she wins a second term.
Kudos to Johnson for understanding the real stakes. Time will tell whether his leadership in forging unity will be sufficient.
Then Wigderson wrote:
I like a good meal just like anyone else, and I’m even willing to occasionally splurge on a really good meal at the right restaurant with the right chef. However, is there anyone who can’t get a photo with Nicholson or Vukmir for free right now? I’m betting they would love to pose with you at a county fair or Republican picnic near you, and somebody with the campaign will even take the picture. For $5,000, either the photo is being taken by the next Ansel Adams or the food had better be cooked by Emeril himself.
And don’t get me started on the $50,000 “host” level. For that kind of money, you should at least be allowed to keep the dining room table.
Needless to say it’s pretty unlikely I’ll be attending unless someone gives me a comp ticket or they pay me to park cars. And I’m guessing most of you won’t be attending, either. In fact, I doubt that I know very few people that can afford to attend.
I understand the need to fund the eventual winner of the GOP primary, and that’s what this is really about. They don’t want Vukmir or Nicholson to be caught without the money to run a campaign immediately following the primary. However, if the two billionaires are already promising to get along and support the other person’s chosen candidate if they win the primary, then are the braised hummingbird wings, foie gras and vin de pricey really necessary to seal the deal?
I’m reminded of Braveheart, when the Scottish nobles would cut a deal. The English would get concessions in the north, the Scottish nobles would get some lands in the south, and the peasants get to die if the negotiations break down.
Hendricks and Uihlein are spending money convincing the GOP peasantry that either Nicholson or Vukmir is the worst person in the world. And then, when the fighting is done, they’ll raise a glass and the peasants are supposed to go along with the new peace agreement. At least Marie Antoinette offered cake. (Yes, I know she’s French, not Scottish or English.)
So let me offer a suggestion. Instead of Japanese Wagyu steaks, sea urchin and caviar, how about serving brats, burgers and beer at a Waukesha County park? Have Nicholson and Vukmir work the grills and have the billionaires pour the beer? Charge ten bucks a head and invite, you know, the GOP voters that are being told how evil Nicholson and Vukmir really are every night on television. Let the Republican voters see for themselves that Nicholson and Vukmir are not secret clones of Joseph Stalin or Jane Fonda.
Who knows? The Republican Party might make a little money out of it and the voters might not be so easily swayed by the next round of scaremongering ads being paid for by a billionaire with a pet candidate.