Share story

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson is running as an outsider looking to shake up the GOP establishment.

But records obtained by The Associated Press show that he successfully lobbied top officials in Gov. Scott Walker’s administration to land a coveted appointment to the influential state Department of Veterans Affairs Board.

Nicholson rarely talks about his four years on the board on the campaign trail and does not mention the Walker appointment on his campaign website biography. His spokesman, Brandon Moody, said Thursday that Nicholson is proud of his work on the board.

“He cares about his fellow veterans and will always focus on finding ways to help them at all stages of their lives and careers,” Moody said. “Any suggestion to the contrary is fake news.”

Democrats accuse Nicholson of being a hypocrite.

“While he claims to be a so-called ‘outsider,’ Nicholson tried for years to cozy up to Scott Walker,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Brad Bainum. “Kevin Nicholson has repeatedly been caught lying and it’s clear that his only guiding principle is political opportunism.”

Nicholson, a management consultant from Delafield in his first race for public office, is trying to position himself as an outsider in the mold of President Donald Trump while portraying his Republican challenger, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, as an establishment favorite.

The winner of the Aug. 14 primary will face Democratic incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November. The national GOP believes it can flip the seat and more than $11.7 million has been spent by outside groups largely trying to bolster Nicholson or attack Baldwin.

Nicholson was head of the College Democrats in 2000 before joining the Marines. He served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he earned the Bronze Star, before leaving active service in 2009.

Nicholson has emphasized his military background in his campaign, but not his time working for Walker’s administration. Instead, he repeatedly says he’s not a politician and won’t play by the rules of the establishment.

“I am a political outsider,” Nicholson tweeted Thursday. “I think it is going to take someone from the outside to beat @SenatorBaldwin.”

He linked to a 30-minute radio interview he did on Wednesday. Nicholson, while describing his military service, conversion to a Republican and other biographical details, did not mention his state veterans board service.

Records show he did a lot of arm twisting of insiders to win Walker’s appointment five years ago.

In 2012, Nicholson submitted his resume and that of his wife, Jessie, for consideration by Walker to veteran-related boards or other relevant appointments. He met with members of Walker’s staff, including the head of gubernatorial appointments and then-Veterans Department Secretary John Scocos.

In a November 2012 email, Nicholson referenced concerns that were raised about his level of involvement with the state’s veterans groups.

“I’m extremely eager to help out with vets initiatives and issues in our state, and am looking forward to working together in one capacity or another in the future,” he wrote to Scocos after a Nov. 15, 2012, meeting.

Nicholson indicated that he was not actively involved with the veterans groups because he had only recently returned to Wisconsin after leaving active duty in 2009 and then completing a three-year graduate degree program at Harvard and Dartmouth.

He repeatedly expressed interest in serving on the state veterans board, telling Scocos to “please keep me posted, and let me know if there’s anyone else I should contact in the vets community going forward.”

In May 2013, Walker appointed Nicholson to the board and his wife to the Women’s Council Board, where she remains a member. Nicholson’s four-year term on the board ended last year, just as he ramped up his Senate run.

Walker hasn’t endorsed Nicholson or Vukmir, but his wife, Tonette, hosted a fundraiser for Vukmir and the Walkers’ son, Alex, is a top adviser to Vukmir’s campaign.

Vukmir handily won the state GOP endorsement at the party’s convention in May. Nicholson accused the GOP establishment of trying to “rig the game” for her.

Vukmir had no immediate comment Thursday.

___

Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

___

Sign up for “Politics in Focus,” a weekly newsletter showcasing the AP’s best political reporting from around the country leading up to the midterm elections: https://bit.ly/2ICEr3D