State Sen. Leah Vukmir is calling on her Republican U.S. Senate primary opponent, Kevin Nicholson, to apologize for saying U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan “has a light footprint in our state” and that Ryan’s perceived lukewarm support for Trump is “a problem.”

Nicholson is declining to do so, telling the Wisconsin State Journal that he has no beef with Ryan.

“The man is Speaker of the House. He’s got a lot of things to do and a lot of different priorities, and I completely understand that,” Nicholson said. “At the end of the day, he’s doing what he can to pass the president’s agenda, and I appreciate that.”

Nicholson, a Delafield businessman, political newcomer and Iraq War veteran, and Vukmir, the Assistant Majority Leader of the state Senate from Brookfield, are seeking the GOP nod to oppose Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018.

In the recording first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nicholson is responding to GOP activists at a recent Jefferson County event who criticized Ryan, with one calling him a “closet Democrat” and saying his office staffers were too busy to answer his phone call.

One of the activists slams Ryan in the recording for saying, late in the 2016 presidential campaign, that he would not defend or campaign with Trump.

“The Trump issue is a problem, I agree,” Nicholson responded. He later added that Ryan “has a light footprint in our state.”

Nicholson, a former Democrat, also defends Ryan to some extent in the recording, saying he was upfront about never wanting the speaker’s post and “give him credit for that.”

Vukmir, in a statement, called Ryan “a friend of mine” and said he “has never forgotten where he came from or what matters to the people of (Wisconsin’s) 1st Congressional District,” which Ryan represents.

“Anyone who has spent any time in Janesville knows that Paul Ryan is home all the time and is 100 percent Wisconsin. Who will (Nicholson) attack next, Governor Walker?” Vukmir spokeswoman Jess Ward said in the statement.

Ryan’s campaign director, Kevin Seifert, said in a statement that “Ryan’s commitment to Wisconsin is unwavering.”

“He works tirelessly to represent his employers in the 1st Congressional District when in Wisconsin and in Washington, DC,” Seifert said.

Nicholson has touted the support given to him by a super PAC aligned with former Trump strategist Steve Bannon. After leaving the White House to return as chairman of the conservative online news site Breitbart, Bannon declared “war” on Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for, in Bannon’s view, not sufficiently supporting Trump’s agenda.


Mark Sommerhauser covers state government and politics for the Wisconsin State Journal.