In the first television ad of her campaign, U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir sits at a table in a dimly lit kitchen with a holstered handgun next to her.
She does not refer to the gun in the spot, but sternly promises to stand with President Donald Trump, just as she did against all the death threats she says she’s received from liberals.
Vukmir, a born-again state senator who believes that parents have created the nation’s school-shooting crisis by trying to boost their kids’ self-esteem, faces management consultant and political newcomer Kevin Nicholson in the Republican U.S. Senate primary on Aug. 14. Nicholson is running as the outsider in the race, and he brands Vukmir, who is receiving support from Scott Walker and his uber-wealthy, out-of-state patrons, as a career politician.
In fact, Vukmir is a former chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed think-tank that creates model legislation designed to increase corporate profits by getting rid of environmental and consumer regulations, reducing the black vote to ensure the victories of pro-corporate Republicans, and eliminating worker rights.
Vukmir has been endorsed by the state Republican Party, which has thrown its considerable fundraising and organizational resources behind her.
Nicholson, however, leads Vukmir in the most recent Marquette University Law School poll. He’s been given millions of dollars by Illinois mega-donor Richard Uihlein, founder of the Pleasant Prairie-based Uline company. The nature of their relationship is unknown.
Vukmir, a former nurse who’s known by her colleagues in the Legislature as “Nurse Ratched,” emphasizes her far-right voting record and support for Trump, even though she did not initially endorse him.
The winner will take on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November in a race that has attracted more spending by outside groups than any other in the country, based on a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Vukmir and other Republican legislators were the target of massive protests in 2011 for backing GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s signature law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, including teachers, and forced them to pay more for their benefits. As a result, the state is suffering from a serious teaching shortage.
On the campaign trail, Vukmir frequently boasts about the bravery she showed in the face of death threats during the Act 10 protests. Her ad includes a dramatization of a voicemail threat in which the actor who’s playing the caller says, “I know where you live and I’m going to come for you. You’re going to die and I’m going to be the one who does it.”
Vukmir’s campaign spokesman Mattias Gugel said the voicemail in the ad was representative of multiple threats Vukmir had received, not an actual one.
Vukmir said in 2011 that she and another Republican state senator had received threats on the website Craigslist. But they did not describe then what exactly was threatened or why they were on Craigslist. Owned by eBay, Craiglist banned personal ads earlier this year due to their use by thieves, sexual abusers and human traffickers.
Gugel provided The Associated Press with a copy of a Facebook message Vukmir received from someone who called her a “sick (expletive)” and said “hope some nut with a gun shows you why there should be stricter gun laws. The only way you may get it!”
Gugel said Vukmir’s TV commercial would run in multiple television markets through June 29. He would not say how large the ad buy was.