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Wisconsin Democrat could be first openly gay U.S. senator

September 06, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli | Washington Bureau
  • Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin announces her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in a Web video Tuesday.
Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin announces her candidacy for the U.S. Senate… (YouTube )

Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin launched her bid for the Senate on Tuesday, an effort that if successful would make her the first openly gay senator in U.S. history.

The label Baldwin is more interested in running on is "progressive fighter," which is the title of the YouTube video her campaign released Tuesday announcing her candidacy.

"I've made standing up for the middle class my top priority, and I've never hesitated to speak my mind," she says in the video.

But her campaign is not shying away from the potentially groundbreaking nature of her candidacy. The same video notes media coverage of her election to Congress in 1998 as "open[ing] doors for gays."

"The fact is, I've been honest about my sexual orientation my entire adult life. And integrity is important in public service," Baldwin said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, published Tuesday. "But what voters are looking for is somebody who understands them, is fighting for them and won't give up. The election is not going to be about me, it's about the voters."

With a base of support in the Madison area and the expected backing of state progressives, Baldwin would appear to have an inside track on the Democratic nomination in the race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl. Fellow Democratic Rep. Ron Kind and former Rep. Steve Kagen are also considering the race.

On the Republican side, former Rep. Mark Neumann has already thrown his hat into the ring. Tommy Thompson, a former governor and onetime Health and Human Services secretary, has signaled interest in the race but not yet declared his candidacy.

Wisconsin has been ground zero for one of the year's biggest political battles, between new Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Democrats and labor activists who opposed his controversial budget measures. The Senate race figures to be a must-hold for Democrats as they seek to retain control of the chamber in 2012.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee responded to Baldwin's announcement by noting that she was ranked by the National Journal this year as the most liberal member of Congress.

"We look forward to the clear contrast this race will provide between an extreme Madison liberal versus a common-sense, pro-jobs and fiscally responsible Republican candidate," spokesman Chris Bond said in a statement.

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