Sign in / Join
Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin's Next Senator?

Baldwin likely to run for Kohl’s Senate seat

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin is seriously considering a run for the Senate seat that’s being vacated by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, putting her on track to possibly become the nation’s first openly gay U.S. senator.

“I take major decisions very seriously,” Baldwin said. “I intend to study this very carefully, because if I do decide to do it, I’m going to be in it all the way. By summertime I should know.”

Baldwin flew back to her Madison office from Washington on May 13, the day that the 76-year-old Kohl announced he would not seek re-election next year. She spent the weekend talking to leaders and advisors, getting their feedback on her prospective candidacy.

“This is the first open Senate seat we’ve had (in Wisconsin) in a generation,” said Baldwin, who represents the state’s Second Congressional District. “There’s been lots of discussion and lots of dialogue, and I’ve been encouraged to run, both from people in Wisconsin, as well as national leaders.”

Among those who want to see the seven-term congresswoman run are Katie Belanger, executive director of Fair Wisconsin, and Denis Dison, vice president of communications for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

“Her running for the Senate would be a huge milestone for the community,” Belanger said. “And the fact that she really is an incredibly viable candidate means there’s a very good chance that she would win, and we would have the first out senator in the entire country.”

Dison said that having an out LGBT person in the Senate would create “a tremendous opportunity to educate other members.”

“The Senate is a much more close-knit legislative body than the House,” Dison said. “To have somebody in the Senate ranks from our community to develop those relationships and friendships is going to be a game changer in terms of having people understand what the community is really about, not only on her side of the aisle but the other side. She would be our public face in the Senate, and that’s something we’ve never had before.”

Baldwin made history in 1998 when she became the first out non-incumbent ever elected to the House of Representatives. While she said she’s aware of the difference it would make for LGBT people throughout the country if she were elected to the U.S. Senate, Baldwin added that if she runs it will be for all of the people of Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin is my home, and I love the state and its people,” she said. “This is a time politically when we need someone who can bring people together. I want to see the state and our country flourish again.”

Dison said that if Baldwin runs, she could count on significant support from the Victory Fund and its national network of donors. In 1998, the organization raised $250,000 for Baldwin’s congressional election, and in 2009 it raised $400,000 for Anise Parker’s successful Houston mayoral campaign.

Baldwin could count on considerably more for a U.S. Senate campaign, Dison added.

“It would be a top priority for us,” he said. “The LGBT community nationwide would be so excited about this race. People love her. She’s a true hero of the community. She’s going to have the support of women, of pro-choice groups and of labor. I think she could put together a really, really strong campaign.”

Most pundits believe that Baldwin would be a formidable candidate. Although her congressional district includes the state’s liberal bulwark of Madison, it is somewhat of a microcosm of Wisconsin. A demographic checkerboard, the Second Congressional District is one-third urban, one-third suburban and one-third rural. Before Baldwin was elected, a Republican represented the district.

Baldwin has consistently earned comfortable re-election margins of more than 60 percent, proving she can connect with dairy farmers and soccer moms as well as students and government workers.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin marches with civil rights activist Jesse Jackson

Leave a reply