Openly lesbian U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) — who on Tuesday announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) — told a group of LGBTQ journalists on Wednesday that “this campaign next year will not be about me, it will be about the middle class and the threats they are facing.”
The teleconference, sponsored by the Victory Fund, an advocacy group that works to elect LGBT leaders into public office, gave Baldwin a chance to face reporters and discuss why she should be elected the next senator from the Badger State.
“I’m appreciative of the tremendous support I’ve had from the LGBT community and I’m officially in,” Baldwin said.
“As I’ve traveled around this summer people have told me again and again how disgusted they are with what’s going on in Washington and in Madison. They tell me that they just don’t think that anyone is listening to their immediate concerns on the economy and on jobs. The middle class is getting slammed in this current economic crisis.”
Baldwin told journalists that her largest hurdle in the state is name recognition (which is roughly at 52-55 percent, depending on the poll), but emphasized the weary fate of the economy will be her major focus.
A recent Gallup poll showed increased frustration across the nation with how Congress handled the debt deal and other economic issues in August — 75 percent of those surveyed in the most recent poll believed that the economy will continue to get worse with only 20 percent having a positive outlook for the economy.
Baldwin is no political outsider — she has been serving Wisconsin’s 2nd District since 1999 when she was elected as the first women to represent the state on a national level — but her plan to stabilize the economy and create jobs will be a deciding factor for voters in November 2012.
“It will be a tough race as Wisconsin is pretty evenly divided,” Baldwin said. “But Wisconsinites are looking to elect someone who will go to Washington and be a fighter.”
“If voters look at my record in they house, they will learn that I have taken on incredibly tough challenges. I stood up and opposed the war in Iraq and I’ve stood up against Wall Street. I have shown a lifetime commitment for equality for all — I’m a fighter and I will continue to stand up to special interests.”
With Wisconsin’s unemployment continuing to rise (it rose to 7.8% in July), voters will be expecting its Senate candidates to bring more than just empty rhetoric to the campaign. As voters across the country continue to ask, “Where are the Jobs?”, Baldwin said she believes she has a bold vision to spur job development in the state.
“I’m in that 80 percent who are disgusted about how things have been handled,” she said, commenting on voter’s frustration with the debt deal.
“I feel that frustration and anger that Wisconsinites feel toward the economic problems and how [elected officials] in Washington and Madison are not listening,” Baldwin said. “So many people believe that our best says are behind us, but we have to have optimism. We can’t give up on what is offered by having a democracy that can change.”
Reflecting on her 12 years in Congress, Baldwin said her vision on job creation and the economy, and progressive voting record in the House, will stand for itself.
“I’ve been very successful working across party lines to get things done and being effective,” she said “I will continue to do that when elected to the Senate.”
Unfortunately, the political outlook isn’t quite so positive.
Job market conditions across the Nation deteriorated for the second month in a row. Gallup poll released their Job Creation index and the numbers paint a bleak picture of the potential for more jobs in the upcoming months. The job creation index fell to +13 in August, down from +14 in July and +15 in June. New hiring is at about the level it was during the 2008 recession.
The question remains, will Wisconsin voters believe in Baldwin’s record as much as the Wisconsin LGBTQ community has expressed belief in her.
Asked by Edge Media’s senior political reporter Mike Lavers how the Baldwin campaign would respond to homophobia from within Wisconsin or outside the state, she did not directly answer, instead saying, “I am opposed to discrimination in any form and believe in equal opportunity for all Americans … and equal opportunities for all and I make no apologies for that.”
Former Republican Congressman Mark Neumann, who has already declared his candidacy for the same Senate seat, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 1997 that he would not hire an openly gay employee because the “gay and lesbian lifestyle is unacceptable.”
Pressed for an answer on the same subject by Washington Blade Senior Political Correspondent Chris Johnson, Baldwin replied, “To the extent that I’m faced with it in my campaign, I plan on responding very directly. The campaign 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.”
On the subject of whether she’ll promote LGBT rights, particularly the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, while on the campaign trail, Baldwin said she has been talking about such issues in the context of larger discussions, noting that in 1982, Wisconsin was the first state to enact protections based on sexual orientation.
“When I talk about the proud tradition of the state of Wisconsin and labor and equal rights — they are all in the same conversation,” Baldwin said. “People in Wisconsin feel proud of those firsts, all of them, and view them as interlinked. That’s the same sort of way, I think, at the national level that we weave these things together.”
Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund noted that Baldwin has never shied away from her sexual orientation, and it would seem that Wisconsin voters don’t believe being an lesbian should dictate whether or not she should be elected to the Senate.
“We are enormously proud that Tammy has taken this courageous step, and we will be strong supporters of her campaign. 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.”
Wolfe stated that since the organization endorsed her in 1992 “she hasn’t lost a race.”