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Timeline: The Badger State Brawl

Earlier this year, the Associated Press reported that “Wisconsin Republicans are growing increasingly worried” about the prospect of an “expensive and negative primary.” GOP candidates Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson wasted no time in making those worst fears a reality.

From Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Spokeswoman, Courtney Rice: “It’s no surprise this race has already been described as ‘divided’ and ‘unsettled.’ What’s disappointing is that, when they aren’t feuding with each other, both Vukmir and Nicholson are going out of their way to be on the wrong side of Wisconsinites by supporting a tax plan that will hurt the middle class and a health care agenda that will strip coverage for pre-existing conditions.” 

October 2: The AP reports on Divided Wisconsin Republicans picking sides in Senate race, “pitting a former Marine and Democrat who casts himself as a political outsider against a longtime elected official with deep ties to Gov. Scott Walker.”

October 12: “Well, that didn’t take long.” That’s how the Journal Sentinel began its story on Leah Vukmir’s suggestion that Kevin Nicholson run for another office to “gain experience” before running for U.S. Senate.

October 16: Nicholson had already racked up out-of-state Republican endorsements, and gets one more: Steve Bannon. However, “the move by the super PAC didn’t meet with much acclaim on conservative talk radio, a powerful influence in the Milwaukee area…. Jeff Wagner of WTMJ radio told his listeners: ‘If Kevin Nicholson thinks that in Wisconsin the Steve Bannon endorsement is going to be what puts him over the top, I think that he is going to be sadly, sadly mistaken.’”

October 19: This Senate primary becomes “an early flashpoint” in the larger feud between establishment Republicans like Mitch McConnell and the insurgent wing of the GOP with the help of Steve Bannon:

Nicholson said Tuesday he has “made it clear he’s prepared to support new leadership because of the Senate’s failure to pass a conservative agenda.” Chief among those failures are the unsuccessful attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Vukmir isn’t saying, and she told the Associated Press this week that McConnell’s leadership never came up in a private meeting she had with Bannon.

October 29: Conservative talk radio – “an influential group [that…] plays an outsized role” in Wisconsin politics – questions Nicholson’s conservative bonafides. Bannon’s endorsement of Nicholson fuels this fire: “I can’t imagine this is going to be a net plus for him,” Charlie Sykes, once the leading voice in Wisconsin conservative talk radio, said of Bannon’s endorsement of Nicholson. Vukmir has “a very, very strong base in talk radio. … She’s certainly got the home-court advantage.” 

November 1: Nicholson criticizes Speaker Paul Ryan as having a “light footprint in the state” – and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel warns that “he’s walking a political tightrope… [having] won the endorsement of a super PAC with ties to Steve Bannon, the ex-White House chief strategist who is at odds with the Republican establishment, [while simultaneously] trying to win a party primary in a state where Ryan remains strong.”

November 2: Vukmir calls on Nicholson to apologize for criticizing Ryan. Nicholson declines to do so.

November 2: The “dean of Wisconsin’s Congressional Republicans,” Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, issued “a highly unusual statement” criticizing Nicholson for his attacks on Ryan: “Any candidate seeking that office would benefit greatly from Paul’s experience and leadership.”

November 2: Conservative media continued the crusade against Nicholson, with one publication, Right Wisconsin, accusing Nicholson of “choosing the wrong side” in the feud between “Bannon/Breitbart and local conservatives.”

November 3: Conservative columnist Christian Schneider chided Nicholson for “taking cues from a national alt-right figure” in attacking Ryan and called out the hypocrisy in Nicholson’s statements: “The irony of Kevin Nicholson taking cues from a national alt-right figure to attack Paul Ryan for not being sufficiently rooted in Wisconsin is rich. But the idea of running as a Republican by attacking one of the state’s most popular GOP politicians is puzzling given that Nicholson is trying to persuade people that he is, indeed, Republican.”

November 4: Nicholson continues to “draw political ire” from Wisconsin Republicans, including former Lt. Gov. Margaret Farrow, who accused him of moving back to Wisconsin simply to run for the Senate and the presidency. 

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