By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican state Sen. Leah Vukmir made it official Thursday that she’s running for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin, casting herself as the only true conservative in a primary contest that includes a former Democrat.
Vukmir’s long-expected entry guarantees a Republican primary in the race to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Former Marine Kevin Nicholson, who was national head of the College Democrats of America in 2000, is already running as a Republican and the Madison businessman Eric Hovde is considering getting into the race.
Vukmir made clear in her announcement video Thursday that she intends to point to her long public record as she contrasts herself with Nicholson and Hovde, neither of whom has ever been in office.
“I am the only clear, consistent conservative in this race,” Vukmir said in the video. “I have a track record that people know. They can count on me. I’ve gotten things done.”
Vukmir, 59, is a registered nurse from Brookfield, first elected to the Assembly in 2002 and then the Senate in 2010.
She is a member of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and has been an outspoken supporter of repealing the state’s prevailing-wage law, expanding taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school students and those with disabilities and crime victims’ rights.
Vukmir was among the senators who voted to pass the bill in 2011 that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers and forced them to pay more for their pension and health benefits. Gov. Scott Walker and other conservatives said the change was needed to help balance the state budget and reduce school and local governments’ costs.
The debate over the law, known as Act 10, resulted in weeks of protests at the Capitol. Democratic senators fled the state in a failed effort to stop its passage.
Vukmir references that fight in her announcement video, which includes footage of people shouting “shame!” and rushing passed police during protests at the Capitol.
“I’m proud to have stood shoulder to shoulder with Governor Walker as we’ve passed conservative change in Wisconsin,” Vukmir said in the video. “It wasn’t easy, but it was the right thing to do.”
Vukmir has been working for months traveling the country laying the groundwork for the expected Senate run. She has the Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks as her finance co-chair and Mary Kohler on her campaign committee.
Kohler is the widow of Terry Kohler, a Republican activist who was president of Windway Capital Corp.
Nicholson, of Delafield, won the early endorsement of the national conservative group Club for Growth and a super PAC backing him fueled by a $2 million contribution from the former Uline Corp. founder Richard Uihlein.
Nicholson’s campaign spokesman, Mike Antonopoulos, did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment. Hovde, who had said he hoped to make a decision on the race around this time, also did not immediately return a message.
Baldwin is in her first term and viewed as a top GOP target nationally as the party tries to retain majority control of the Senate. She was elected in 2012, the same year then-President Barack Obama carried Wisconsin on his way to re-election. In 2018, Baldwin will be running on the same ballot as Walker as he seeks re-election to a third term.
Baldwin’s spokesman referred comments to the state Democratic Party. Martha Laning, state party chairwoman, said Vukmir endorses “extreme” policies that benefit special interests and don’t address rising costs of Wisconsin families.
Vukmir faced no Democratic opponent in the 2014 general election. She beat the incumbent senator, Jim Sullivan, a Democrat, to take her state Senate seat in 2010, winning by just over 4 points.