U.S. Senate candidate Leah Vukmir’s not worried about the political environment next year even with recent Dem wins in Alabama and Virginia. The Brookfield Republican claims Wisconsin’s a different case.

The current state senator who hopes to face off against U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin next year also told a WisPolitics.com luncheon Dec. 19 that one lesson from 2016 is “you can throw all the polls and conventional wisdom out the window.”

“I really do believe that there is a sense that that silent majority that spoke out last November is not so silent in Wisconsin in particular, and they do want people to continue speaking out and being bold,” she said.

Vukmir also pointed to what she said makes Wisconsin stand out, namely the strength of the party in the state and “all of the reforms that we’ve been through,” which she said “has really brought us together as a party and makes us very unique compared to other states.”

Since she began testing the waters for a potential U.S. Senate bid last February, Vukmir said she’s put 35,000 miles on her car and traveled to 55 of the state’s 72 counties — all in an effort to reach out to as many Wisconsin residents as she can.

That’s something she’ll continue focusing on ahead of the upcoming August primary, where her only Republican opponent so far is former Marine and business consultant Kevin Nicholson — although Madison businessman Eric Hovde is still weighing a bid.

Asked by an audience member if she sees it as an advantage to possibly having a woman running against Baldwin, D-Madison, next year, Vukmir said she doesn’t look at her time in the Legislature through the lens of being a female lawmaker or candidate.

“I’ve never been one to look at being a female legislator as being different,” she said. “I think the minute you do that then you’re admitting that there’s this glass ceiling and then once you admit that there’s a glass ceiling, then you’re claiming victimhood.”

Instead, Vukmir said, growing up in a “big fat Greek family,” she had to learn “how to kick, fight, scratch my way through things.”

“I’ve figuratively learned to be a fighter and so that’s kind of why for me, it’s not an issue,” she said.

Vukmir criticized the national Club for Growth for its characterization of her Republican track record, while taking a few swipes at fellow U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson.

The Club for Growth, which is backing Nicholson, labeled Vukmir as a RINO — or Republican in Name Only — in a fundraising letter last month. Vukmir called that “curious.”

“Most of my career the left has vilified me for being an arch conservative and now I’m a RINO,” she said. “Which one is it? It can’t be both.”

The group’s president, David McIntosh, defended his group’s endorsement of Nicholson in a post on Right Wisconsin, writing her record on economic issues in Wisconsin is “wanting.”

“A prior record is the best predictor of how a candidate will act in higher office,” McIntosh wrote. “By that standard, Leah Vukmir’s record shows that on key issues – tax increases, spending, and protecting private property – she will side with Democrats.”

But Vukmir pointed to “conservative reforms” she and other Republicans have supported including Act 10, the repeal of prevailing wage, the dismantling of the Government Accountability Board, a law prohibiting local governments requiring project labor agreements for public projects and more.

“If you’re going to call me a RINO, you’re going to have to call Scott Walker and the rest of our team RINOs,” she said.

In regard to the race to take on U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin next year, Vukmir said she’s “staying above the fray.” But she did say Nicholson would have to answer for his track record, which includes a stint as chair of the national College Dems, as well as “where he stands on our conservative principles.”

“Anyone can say anything; I’ve actually done it,” she said. “That’s the difference.”

A Nicholson campaign spokesman said in a statement that Nicholson , as a former Marine, is “used to getting shot at.”

“But the establishment is scared because current polling shows Kevin winning this primary as conservative voters rally to a candidate with a real story and an authenticity that’s a lot more compelling than ‘I’ve run for office before,’” spokesman Brandon Moody said.

Vukmir also knocked Baldwin for her support of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill, which Vukmir called “absurd” and unaffordable.

“She’s been in office her entire life, and I can’t name too many things she’s done for the state of Wisconsin that have been helpful,” Vukmir said.

State Dem party spokesman Brad Bainum hit Vukmir back for her support of the tax overhaul bill.

“State Senator Leah Vukmir has spent her career in Madison helping billionaires and corporate special interests get rich at the expense of Wisconsin working families, so it’s no surprise she’s cheering the passage of a tax plan that hikes taxes on more than half of Americans and spikes healthcare premiums, all to gift the richest 1% and corporations a big tax cut,” he said.

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