by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) announced on September 6 that she is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl.
If elected, she would become the first open Lesbian to serve in the Senate.
Baldwin took the unusual step of announcing her candidacy with a video released simultaneously in all of Wisconsin's media markets.
'I'm running for the U.S. Senate to stand up for you,' she says in the video.
'I will put people back to work building our roads, bridges, and schools, by helping small business and entrepreneurs secure the capital they need to grow and expand to put other people back to work.'
The next day, Baldwin took part in a national conference call with 15 representatives of major LGBT media, including SGN. The call was organized by the Victory Fund, which is supporting Baldwin's campaign.
'It's an exciting day for the Victory Fund and an even more exciting day for Tammy,' Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe said in his introduction.
'The Victory Fund endorsed Tammy in her first legislative race in 1992. She's never lost a race, and we're confident she'll continue that streak through 2012.'
'I appreciate the Victory Fund and all the people in the LGBT community who encouraged me to run,' Baldwin said on the conference call.
She took the unorthodox route of announcing her candidacy with a video, rather than a tour of the state, because she felt she could reach more voters that way, she explained.
'I'm very well known in the House district I represent, but I still have to introduce myself to voters in the rest of the state,' she said.
Besides Baldwin, only former Republican Congressman Mark Neumann has declared for the Senate seat. Former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson is considered almost certain to enter the race.
On the Democratic side, Baldwin may face opposition in the primary from Congressman Ron Kind and former Congressman Steve Kagen. Polling shows Baldwin ahead of both her possible Democratic opponents but trailing both possible Republicans.
In response to a question about her standing in statewide polls, Baldwin said that polling at this early stage of the race only indicates name recognition.
'I am recognized by 52 to 55% of the voters,' she said. 'Once people hear that there's a candidate named Tammy Baldwin, and she's a fighter for the middle class, the numbers will change.'
'That's why we did the announcement the way we did,' she added.
Asked if she thought she would face a primary challenge, she replied, 'I have no idea, but I'm prepared for any eventuality.'
Baldwin admitted that she faces 'a very tough campaign.'
'Wisconsin is a deeply and evenly divided state,' she said. 'You've seen us go back and forth. You've seen Wisconsin come alive in the past few months in opposition to a group of state leaders who are not listening to the concerns of the people. But I think voters are going to hear me out and come to know that I am going to be a fighter.'
Baldwin's congressional district in Madison is arguably the most liberal in the state, and she has always been identified as one of the most liberal members of Congress. Her potential challenger Mark Neumann has labeled her 'too liberal for the state.'
Asked how her candidacy would play statewide, in a state she acknowledges is deeply divided ideologically, Baldwin said she is optimistic.
In the time she has spent speaking with voters, she said, she has heard 'again and again just how disgusted they are' with both the Republican-dominated Wisconsin state government and the federal government.
'It's clear to all of us that the middle class is getting completely slammed both in this economic environment and in this political environment,' Baldwin said, returning to the theme that she is a fighter for the middle class.
Baldwin noted she voted against the 2002 Iraq war resolution and against the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall financial regulation law. Many observers say the repeal of Glass-Steagall led to the financial crisis of 2008.
'People will also recognize that I have a lifetime commitment to equality for all,' Baldwin continued. 'And I think they'll learn that I'm not afraid to stand up to big and powerful interests.'
'I think we as the LGBT community can really understand the concerns we feel when we think our leaders aren't taking our genuine challenges and struggles to heart,' she added.
Asked whether being an out Lesbian might be an issue in the campaign, Baldwin said she thinks Wisconsin voters will value her honesty about her sexual orientation.
'I have always - since the beginning - in my adult life been out and honest about my sexual orientation, and I think that voters appreciate the values of honestly and expect integrity in their elected officials,' Baldwin said.
'The race is not about me,' Baldwin added. 'It's about the voters - the problems facing everyday working people.'
'It will be about the middle-class, the threats that they're facing right now, the struggles that families are experiencing and which candidate for U.S. Senate is going to be the best fighter for them,' Baldwin said.
'As I campaign statewide, I think what counts is that I'm a leader who gets it.'
'The challenge,' she continued, 'is that in a contested campaign - a hotly, hotly, hotly contested campaign - some people will try to introduce me to voters before I can introduce myself. And they won't be as complimentary as Chuck [Wolfe].'
Baldwin said that if she were confronted with anti-Gay attacks from her opponents, she would confront them head-on, however.
'To the extent that I'm faced with it in my campaign, I plan on responding very directly,' she said. 'The campaign for equal rights is unfolding across the country, but to the extent that it is raised in the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, I am certainly not going to turn the other way.'
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