It didn’t come as a shock to anyone when Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin announced this week that she’s running for a third term. After a decade in the U.S. Senate, Baldwin is a force in Wisconsin politics and a fixture in Washington, where she served seven terms as the first openly LGBTQ person elected to the House of Representatives before moving up to her current job.
In her 2012 Senate run she beat the most popular Republican in the state, former Gov. Tommy Thompson, by 5.5 percentage points. In her 2018 re-election campaign she ran roughshod over her opponent Leah Vukmir, winning by nearly 11 points in the same year Gov. Tony Evers squeaked into office, defeating former Gov. Scott Walker by a nail-biting one-point margin.
Baldwin has become Exhibit A in national discussions of Democratic strategy. Pundits marvel at her ability to appeal to both urban progressives and rural voters in Republican-leaning districts. Even as political polarization has divided the electorate into ever more hostile camps, Baldwin manages to motivate a young, diverse base in Madison and Milwaukee while getting farmers and small town residents in bright red Western Wisconsin to vote for her, too.
Her secret is simple: she works hard, gets to know her constituents, and fights for the things they care about. On the same day she announced her 2024 campaign, she traveled to Eau Claire to tout $5 million in federal money she helped secure for technical colleges in the area to recruit and train rural health care workers.
That’s vintage Baldwin, bringing home the bacon and addressing nuts and bolts problems like health care access, the labor shortage and the need to strengthen local economies.
She speaks fluent agriculture and manufacturing and doesn’t let partisanship get in her way.
Sen. Ron Johnson refused to join Baldwin in her most high-profile recent triumph, shepherding a bipartisan coalition of senators to a historic vote to protect same-sex marriage from the precedent-stomping conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. But as it turned out, Johnson’s vote wasn’t needed to pass the Respect for Marriage Act. Always looking for opportunities to find common ground, Baldwin reached out again to Johnson to co-sponsor the cutely named CURD (Codifying Useful Regulatory Definitions) Act, defending Wisconsin’s dairy industry by defining “natural cheese” as opposed to the fake stuff. Johnson said yes this time.
As the first woman from Wisconsin and the first openly gay member elected to the U.S. Senate, Baldwin drew a lot of gee-whiz coverage early in her career. But after the Thompson campaign’s miserably unsuccessful effort to use her gender and sexuality against her — with a laughable video that showed her dancing in a gay pride parade with a “fake Wonder Woman” (note to GOP: there is no “real” Wonder Woman) – they’ve kind of given up.
It’s just too hard to paint Baldwin as some sort of dangerously out-there radical. Yes, she is a champion for marriage equality, reproductive rights and trans visibility. But most of all, she’s a nerdy policy wonk. Whether she’s going after price gouging pharmaceutical companies and Big Oil, helping veterans access better health care benefits, working to lower the price of prescription drugs or touting the millions of dollars she has helped channel to Wisconsin businesses, no one is more detail-oriented, down to earth, and just plain normal than Baldwin. In our current political environment, that makes her stand out.
This year, after watching the complete melt-down of their far-right candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court, Republicans are reexamining the wisdom of running against abortion rights.
Baldwin’s announcement happened to coincide with a post-election reckoning on how abortion has hurt Republicans. As the author of the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2023, Baldwin has been waging a high-profile battle for guaranteed access to abortion everywhere in the U.S. Thus, Wisconsin Republicans are looking at refighting a fight they just lost.
It’s a sign of the times that Baldwin’s most talked about potential challengers in 2024 (none of whom has announced yet) come from the more normal end of the GOP spectrum, including Congressman Mike Gallagher and businessman Erik Hovde.
Those candidates seem likely to take a page from Baldwin’s playbook and make a play for a broader swath of the electorate than their increasingly unstable base. But the top of the ticket, whether it’s Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis, is not going to help them. And Baldwin is strong, not just because she’s on the majority’s side when it comes to abortion rights in an election that’s likely to center on that issue, but because she has a long track record to make the case that she’s a genuine populist of the kind Wisconsin’s Bernie Sanders/Donald Trump voters can support.
“I’m committed to making sure that working people, not just the big corporations and ultra-wealthy, have a fighter on their side,” Baldwin said when she announced her candidacy Wednesday. “With so much at stake, from families struggling with rising costs to a ban on reproductive freedom, Wisconsinites need someone who can fight and win.”
That’s going to be hard to beat.
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originally published at https%3A%2F%2Fwisconsinexaminer.com%2F2023%2F04%2F13%2Ftammy-baldwins-good-timing%2F by Ruth Conniff
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