America Is so Polarized That This Republican Senate Candidate’s Parents Donated to His Democratic Rival

Kevin Nicholson’s parents have maxed out their donations to Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Wisconsin Republican Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson speaks with reporters in Madison, Wis.Scott Bauer/AP

Kevin Nicholson, a Republican challenging Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), has raised over $1.2 million for his 2018 campaign to unseat the nation’s first openly gay senator. But his Democratic rival has raised almost eight times that amount in the last two years—with the help of Nicholson’s own parents.

CNN reported on Tuesday that Michael and Donna Nicholson each donated $2,700—the maximum allowed under federal rules—to Baldwin’s primary campaign in December 2017.

The move might stem less from parental indifference than party loyalty: Nicholson’s parents are longtime Democrats who have given to numerous Democratic candidates over the years. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that, since Nicholson entered the race in July 2017, his mother has made 14 donations to Democrats, including Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Al Franken (D.-Minn.).

Nicholson himself had strong Democratic ties before he decided to run as a Republican. Politico reported that while he was a student at the University of Minnesota, Nicholson served as president of College Democrats of America, a post that granted him a speaking slot at the 2000 Democratic convention. Nicholson attributes his ideological shift to his experiences as a student, Marine, Christian, and family man. “I start every speech talking about how I was a Democrat,” he told Politico in September, “and what I saw and what I was involved in, and how it made me a conservative.” The explanation hasn’t worked for some GOP politicians, such as former Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who has called Nicholson’s conversion “too contrived.”

Nicholson told CNN that his parents’ donations come as no surprise. “My parents have a different worldview than I do, and it is not surprising that they would support a candidate like Tammy Baldwin who shares their perspective,” he said.

Nicholson is facing off against state senator Leah Vukmir in the GOP primary. Nicholson has raised roughly twice as much money as his challenger, according to recent FEC filings. The elder Nicholsons will have another opportunity to throw money Baldwin’s way during the general election—should their son secure the GOP bid, that move might hit even closer to home.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.