As CNN first reported, Donna and Michael Nicholson each contributed $2,700 in December to the reelection campaign of incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), according to Federal Election Commission filings — the maximum allowed by law during the primary election cycle.
The couple can donate the same amount during the general election, when their 40-year-old son may or may not be Baldwin’s direct opponent.
Nicholson said his mother and father have a “different worldview” than he does, saying in a statement to The Washington Post that “it is not surprising that they would support a candidate like Tammy Baldwin who shares their perspective.”
Little is known publicly about the first-time candidate’s parents, who did not respond to a request to comment from The Post — or from other media outlets, including CNN.
Staffers from their son’s campaign even declined to discuss his parents’ occupations for a September profile in Politico, which focused on his transformation from rising star in the Democratic Party to conservative Republican. Nicholson is described in the Politico profile as being similarly private — “an intensely personal guy who is introverted by nature.”
FEC filings show Nicholson’s mother had contributed hundreds of dollars to Baldwin in the past, mostly in the run-up to her victorious Senate campaign in 2012. Donna Nicholson’s last contribution to Baldwin before her son’s candidacy came in 2016, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported — though she contributed to other Democratic candidates across the country, including Al Franken and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
It does not appear that Michael Nicholson made contributions during that period, according to an FEC database.
In his statement to The Post, Kevin Nicholson appeared to put greater distance between himself and the political views of his family to avoid further questions about his political identity.
“I’m a conservative today not because I was born one, but because of the experience I earned as a Marine in combat, my experience as a husband and father, my choice to be a Christian, the schools I chose to attend and the decision to pursue the career that I have,” he said.
He has leaned heavily on his experience as a former Marine officer and work as a business consultant to court Republicans in his Senate bid, channeling President Trump in the assertion that a political outsider will transform Washington politics.
Nicholson has never sought office before and will take on experienced state Sen. Leah Vukmir in the Republican primary. And like other first-timers, he has learned to build coalitions with big-name political operatives, including former White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon.
“Excited to receive an endorsement from the Great America PAC and Steve Bannon,” Nicholson tweeted in October, describing the Bannon-connected political action committee. He has also been backed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
But Nicholson has endured attacks from Trump’s original White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who has challenged Nicholson’s previously held Democratic views.
Nicholson was the president of College Democrats of America in 1999 while at the University of Minnesota, Politico reported last year. In a 2000 television broadcast, he seemed to agree with Democratic strategist Paul Begala’s assertion that Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush had damaged the economy during their presidencies, the Journal-Sentinel reported.
But it was his experience in Iraq leading combat engineers during the 2007 surge that repelled him from the party, he said recently.
“I knew what we were doing there,” he told Politico. “We were stabilizing that country. We made incredible amounts of progress. And what I was hearing back home was a complete and absolute lie, as politicians were running around calling it a failure.”
The family drama has drawn strong reaction. Author and LGBT activist Eric Rosswood wrote on Twitter: “It’s pretty sad when your own parents donate against your senate campaign, and it’s pretty telling when they donate the maximum amount legally allowed.”
Others drew sympathy, even if they oppose Nicholson’s politics. Former Wisconsin state representative Kelda Helen Roys, a Democrat who is running for governor, said on Twitter that she was a Baldwin supporter.
“But must admit I feel kinda bad for the guy,” she said, describing Nicholson.