Wisconsin Republicans Could Endorse In US Senate Race

Republicans Kevin Nicholson, Leah Vukmir Vying For Endorsement At Annual State GOP Convention

2016 Republican Party of Wisconsin State convention
2016 Republican Party of Wisconsin State convention. Shawn Johnson/WPR

Wisconsin Republicans will have a chance to endorse one of the candidates for U.S. Senate at their annual state party convention in Milwaukee this weekend.

But whether it will dramatically change the race between state Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, and Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson is unclear.

Vukmir has been active in the state Republican Party for years, giving her a chance to meet many of the delegates who will vote on the endorsement Saturday. Nicholson, by comparison, is a newcomer.

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But even if Vukmir wins the party’s endorsement, Joe Heim, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said it’s unlikely to sink Nicholson’s campaign.

“Oh no, not by a long shot,” Heim said.

Nicholson has embraced the “outsider” role in this campaign, which Heim said works in his favor.

“I think given the national politics of having an outsider president essentially not always working well with insiders in Washington, I think you’re going to see that whole scenario being played out in the state of Wisconsin as well,” Heim said.

Heim said Nicholson’s financial backing is also working in his favor, mostly in the form of TV ads paid for by outside groups.

Still, an endorsement by the state Republican Party is more than just symbolic. It would give Nicholson or Vukmir access to the organization’s machinery, from its donor list to its volunteers.

The endorsement has been helpful to candidates in the past. For example, it helped U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson leapfrog the rest of the GOP field in 2010 on his way to defeating former Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold.

An endorsement requires a 60 percent vote from all the delegates present at a convention. If no candidate hits that threshold, the party won’t endorse.