U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin has officially entered the race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl, becoming the first Democrat to formally jump in the contest.
The seat is one of at least eight open spots that will help determine the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans need to pick up just four seats to take control.
One of the most liberal members of Congress, Baldwin had been saying since Kohl announced his retirement in May that she was seriously considering a Senate bid. Her congressional district includes the city of Madison, a liberal Democratic stronghold, and some surrounding rural areas.
Baldwin, 49, made her announcement in an e-mail and video announcement to supporters early Sept. 6. If elected, she would become the first openly gay member of the Senate.
Baldwin, the first woman whom Wisconsin voters sent to Congress, was also the first person elected to Congress after coming out. She was first elected in 1998.
Within hours of Baldwin’s announcement for the Senate, the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, influential LGBT organizations, announced their endorsements.
“Tammy Baldwin’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate is monumental for both the state of Wisconsin and the country’s LGBT community,” said HRC president Joe Solmonese. “Tammy has proven herself as an effective legislator over the course of her 13 years in Congress and this campaign will be a top priority.”
The Victory Fund, which has supported Baldwin since her first federal race, launched www.victoryfortammy.com.
“We are enormously proud that Tammy has taken this courageous step, and we will be strong supporters of her campaign,” said Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe. “Tammy’s record in Congress proves she’ll be a fighter in the Senate for expanding fairness and freedom for all Americans, and Wisconsin families will have no better advocate in Washington.”
Baldwin, during a conference call with reporters Sept. 6, said she supports equal opportunity for all people, regardless of race or sexual orientation, but that her focus in the race will be on fighting for the middle class.
“From day one, I have always been open about my sexual orientation,” Baldwin said. “I think that integrity is something that is important to voters.”
A news release from the new campaign was headlined, “Baldwin running for Senate to fight for the middle class.”
She called for a new federal stimulus plan focused on improving schools, roads, bridges and other infrastructure in order to put people to work immediately.
“I hope we hear the president calling for that later this week,” she said.
Baldwin also used her video message to mention her opposition to the war in Iraq and her support for ending the war in Afghanistan, as well as to hint at the obstacles her candidacy will face as she seeks to win her first statewide election.
“I’m used to facing challenges head on,” she said. “When I first ran for Congress in 1998, people counted me out. But we worked hard, campaigned across south-central Wisconsin, and we won.”
Republicans are sure to go after Baldwin’s voting record, hoping to sway independent and moderate voters their way in a state that has swung between handing President Barack Obama a 14-point win in 2008 and kicking Democrats out of power in the Statehouse in 2010.
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann entered the Senate race in late August. Neumann said at the time that he was focusing his campaign on Baldwin.
Neumann and other Republicans lined up to cast Baldwin as a liberal who is unelectable statewide.
“I’m a conservative, she’s a liberal — it’s that simple,” Neumann said in his statement.
There promises to be a spirited contest on the GOP side, with longtime Gov. Tommy Thompson making serious moves toward his first run for office since 1998. Other Republicans indicating they plan to run include Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, a top ally of polarizing Gov. Scott Walker; state Sen. Frank Lasee, a lawmaker who once advocated arming teachers to protect their classrooms; and former state Sen. Ted Kanavas, a lower-profile candidate who’s been quietly building support.
On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of La Crosse is considering running, as is former two-term U.S. Rep. Steve Kagen of Appleton. Former Sen. Russ Feingold, who lost re-election last year to Republican Ron Johnson, has said he wouldn’t run for any office in 2012.
Meanwhile, Baldwin’s entrance into the Senate race leaves her House seat open for the first time in 14 years. A number of potential Democratic candidates have expressed interest, including state Reps. Mark Pocan and Kelda Helen Roys.
Pocan, the only openly gay member of the Assembly and named Milwaukee Magazine’s best legislator, announced his candidacy on Sept. 7.
“To everyone who struggles to make ends meet, who worries about job security, who wonders whether they can pay their child’s tuition bill and keep paying the mortgage and for those of you who have tried and tried but still cannot find work: I pledge that I will go to Washington to fight for you,” he said in a statement.
Roys also announced on Sept. 7, stating that a bold, progressive leader must follow Baldwin to the House.
“I was proud to help lead the fight against Gov. Walker and the Republicans’ extreme agenda and plans to sell out our state to wealthy corporate interests,” Roys said. “I will bring this passion and energy to fighting John Boehner, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor in Washington. I have a bold plan to create jobs and help renew our nation’s commitment to the middle class.”
From WiG and AP reports