MILWAUKEE – State Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) and Delafield business consultant Kevin Nicholson made another pitch to Wisconsin conservative voters Friday morning in a on-air candidate forum moderated by morning talk radio host Jay Weber of WISN-AM. The live radio debate, in front of a live audience of 75 people in Milwaukee, was mostly free of the recent acrimony between the two Republican campaigns for U.S. Senate.
The candidates rarely differed on the issues. Instead, they spoke more about their respective biographies, experience and endorsements. The opening question to Nicholson set the tone for the morning when Weber asked him what part of being a U.S. Marine made him uniquely experienced to be a member of the Senate?
“There is no better institution doing what it does than the United States Marine Corps,” Nicholson said. “Look, I love all of the services and appreciate what they do. But one thing that drew me to the Marines was that they create leaders. Officer, enlisted, it makes no difference. The job is you have to solve problems, the job is that you have to solve the mission.”
Nicholson said for a Marine, accomplishing the mission is first, always, and then bringing your Marines home. He also said being a Marine made him more conservative, and that he didn’t understand why that’s controversial to say.
“For me, it just taught me to view the world for what it is,” Nicholson said. “Marines don’t have the luxury of pretending. You have to deal with reality when there’s people shooting at you trying to blow you up.”
Vukmir was asked what was it about serving in a legislative body that would uniquely prepare her for being a Senator. Vukmir replied said that she, “has a little of both worlds,” as a mom who never thought about getting into politics in the first place.
“I continue to be a citizen legislator by staying involved working as a nurse through my years,” Vukmir said. “The experience you have a nurse and how it carries over into the legislature: nurses listen, we identify problems, we come up with solutions, we apply them. And if they don’t work, we have to come up with a solution really quickly.”
Vukmir then turned to her legislative accomplishments.
“When I think about when we got into the majority in 2011, to have a 9.3 percent unemployment rate and we now have a 2.8 percent unemployment rate,” Vukmir said. “We had a $3.6 billion budget deficit and now we have surpluses. And we have moved the conservative ball down the field every opportunity we’ve had.”
Vukmir reminded the audience that she fought along side the governor in those days. “I stood beside him and you stood beside us when the Capitol was taken over,” Vukmir said. “And that really gives you an opportunity and experience for what it’s going to be like to deal with the pressure cooker that D.C. is.”
Weber asked Vukmir about the Breitbart news report that she drives a Toyota, not a Ford as one fundraising letter stated.
“I honestly think Andrew Breitbart is turning in his grave to think that this what they have been,” Vukmir said, somewhat humorously at the question. “Look, it was typo that was done by our direct mail vendor. We noticed it right away, but of course it had gone out.”
Vukmir said her television ads pretty clearly show that the car is a Toyota and that she has put 77,000 miles on it since the campaign began.
Both candidates were asked about the senators they would like to emulate in Washington D.C. Nicholson was specifically asked by Weber about Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Nicholson responded that he respected Lee for pushing back on the omnibus spending bill when it was given to senators with little time for them to read the bill. Nicholson is also supportive of Cruz’s stands on repealing Obamacare.
Vukmir was asked which two senators she would emulate. She pointed to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) who pushed back on the proposed tax cut bill to make it better before actually voting on it. Vukmir compared it to the fight for statewide school choice in Wisconsin, where she gradually pushed to expand the program because fighting for everything at once would not have been successful. Vukmir also pointed to Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) as a senator whose style she would like to emulate.
The forum was divided into roughly two segments, with the second half of the show dedicated to audience questions.
The two candidates were largely in agreement on border enforcement, illegal immigration and on tariffs. On tariffs, both candidates said that they trust President Donald Trump to make a good deal for Wisconsin.
“I think it went well. I think that there’s very little that separates the two,” Weber said after the forum. “I’m still trying to figure out how we get to the defining issues with these two, how to separate these two.”
As for the lack of conflict between the two candidates, Weber said he hoped it would come from the audience questions.
“There’s always room for a little bit of acrimony,” Weber said. “I was sort of hoping that might come from the audience members but we sort of ran out time for questions, and the questions that were asked didn’t lead to any sort of fireworks.”
Weber also said that unless he dived into the really “ticky-tack stuff” that there wasn’t a lot that divided the candidates.
You can listen to the whole WISN debate here: