In the GOP primary race for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin, there are two front-runners who are neck-and-neck, according to the latest Marquette poll.
To help Republican voters decide on a favorite, candidates Kevin Nicholson and Leah Vukmir participated in their second debate Thursday night.
How did it go?
The focus of the forum was largely on policy, and the differentiation between the two candidates rests more on their backgrounds and delivery than their positions on the issues.
Vukmir is a state senator and nurse who points to her voting record as evidence that she's a proven conservative, while Nicholson is a business consultant and Marine veteran who emphasizes that he's the outsider in the race.
Acknowledging the Marquette poll, which also shows that 86 percent of Wisconsin Republicans approve of the job that President Donald Trump is doing, debate moderators pressed the two contenders on whether there were any issues where they might disagree with the president.
Both candidates praised Trump in their responses, with Nicholson telling moderator Charles Benson, "I'm not going to fall into the trap. The president has done good work and we should applaud him for it."
Benson replied, "Mr. Nicholson, I'm not asking you to fall into a trap, I'm asking you to talk about ... there are things that [the president] has said and done, and even some people wonder when will Republicans push back when they disagree on things. I mean, are there things that you disagree with him on?"
Neither candidate took the bait, but the question redirected attention to the elephant in the room: The concerns expressed by Wisconsin businesses and agriculture groups over the impact of the U.S. trade wars with other countries.
"The farmers are telling me that they're going to give this president an opportunity," Vukmir said, "because they know that they need access to more markets, not fewer markets. We've seen that the president's negotiating skills have made a difference just with what happened in the EU, so we need to give him more time." The lawmaker noted that China is "the bad actor."
Nicholson also praised Trump's measures on trade while criticizing the existing tariffs imposed by other countries.
"We're going to be selling more soybeans to the EU now," he said, adding that it was "professional politicians" who allowed the tariffs to be imposed in the first place.
The businessman then took aim at Canada, saying the country's tariffs on dairy products and subsidies for its logging industry were detrimental to Wisconsin farmers and businesses.
Both candidates hailed Trump's agenda. Both candidates called for allowing market forces back into health care. Both candidates dodged a question on whether they had a plan for the 7,000 "Dreamers" in Wisconsin, insisting that a wall must first be built along the U.S.-Mexico border before Dreamers could be discussed.
The first hour of the debate featured Vukmir and Nicholson, and then three lesser-known candidates participated in another 30 minutes of questioning.
According to the Marquette Poll, the Republican primary has tightened since March, with Vukmir now at 34 percent and Nicholson at 32 percent. Nicholson held an advantage in the March and June polls.
The winner in the Aug. 14 primary will try to unseat incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D) in November.