MADISON, Wis. — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir attempted to reassure primary voters that she supports President Donald Trump, launching a new television ad Monday with U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy saying claims that Vukmir doesn't back the president are "fake news."
The ad running in La Crosse, Green Bay and Wausau comes after video surfaced last week from 2016 featuring Vukmir saying that Trump was "offensive to everyone" and suggested many Republicans would be reluctant to vote for him.
Both Vukmir and her Republican primary challenger Kevin Nicholson, a former Democrat, have campaigned as staunch Trump supporters. The winner of the Aug. 14 primary will advance to face Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
Vukmir initially endorsed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker during the 2016 presidential campaign, then Florida Sen. Marco Rubio after Walker dropped out. She then endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who won the Wisconsin primary, before she then got behind Trump and became part of a group of Republican women supporting his candidacy.
In Vukmir's new ad, Duffy called ads that Vukmir didn't support Trump were "fake news."
"Leah stood with President Trump in 2016 and she will as your next senator," said Duffy, who represents northern Wisconsin and has endorsed Vukmir in the primary.
The 2016 video showing Vukmir being critical of Trump was released last week by the conservative website Breitbart. The website used to be run by Steve Bannon, the former White House strategist for Trump. A super PAC aligned with Bannon has endorsed Nicholson in the Senate primary.
In the video, Vukmir says of Trump: "He's offensive to everyone. He's offensive to women. He's offensive to men. He's offensive to little people. He's offensive to fat people. He's offensive to everyone, and I — he offends everyone."
When asked what she and others would do to vote for Trump, Vukmir held her nose.
Since the footage was released, Vukmir has insisted that she consistently stands with Trump. Nicholson initially supported Rubio and, like Vukmir, later endorsed Trump. Nicholson is running as a political outsider and has said Vukmir is only supporting Trump when it's politically convenient.
Recent polls have all shown the Republican primary race to be about even.
Both Nicholson and Vukmir, who appeared separately Monday at a state chamber of commerce meeting, praised Trump. They were both asked about his tariff policy, which has drawn criticism from Wisconsin manufacturers and farmers.
"President Donald Trump was elected in large part because people looked at him as being a negotiator," Vukmir said. "People like that about him. ... I'm willing to give the president the time to negotiate fairer deals but I'm always going to be listening to the industries back in my state."
Nicholson said the president's goal was to have a "world without tariffs" and he's expecting other trading partners to make concessions as Trump attempts to level the playing field. He said those affected by the tariffs understand that.
"The average farmer is a lot smarter than the average politician," Nicholson said.