When Tammy Baldwin was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012, she made history as the first out lesbian to win that office. Now she’s up for re-election, and, despite a year that looks increasingly good for Democrats, Baldwin is facing a tough fight as the Republican party singles her out as one of its main targets.
Baldwin represents Wisconsin, which has been successful grounds for Republicans in recent years. Gov. Scott Walker was elected twice and survived a recall challenge. Baldwin’s fellow Senator, Ron Johnson, won re-election in 2016, and Donald Trump narrowly carried the state that same year. House Speaker Paul Ryan also represents a Wisconsin district.
But Wisconsin is far from a Republican state. All of the statewide election victories the party have had have been with narrow margins. (Trump carried the state by fewer than 23,000 votes.) So the party and its backers is throwing the full force of its weight into making sure that Baldwin is defeated.
So far, outside conservative groups have spent $8.5 million against Baldwin. That’s in an election cycle that has barely begun.
The GOP makes no bones about wanting to make an example of Baldwin. “A lot of people within the party feel: Why is Tammy Baldwin representing us when we’ve got Scott Walker, Ron Johnson, and Paul Ryan?” one Republican operative told Vox. “If Baldwin loses, you can say it’s officially a red state.”
Needless to say, some of the money aimed at Baldwin is tinged with homophobia. Groups associated with businessman Richard Uihlein have contributed $4 million to the effort against Baldwin. Uihlein, who owns the printing company Uline, has funded groups attacking marriage equality and was a leading contributor to Roy Moore’s senate campaign. His actions have led to an effort to boycott Uline.
Of course, a lot can change between now and November. For one thing, the Republicans haven’t chosen their candidate yet. Democratic turnout may be higher than usual this year, while Republicans may not be as motivated to vote.
But it’s clear that Baldwin will have a tough battle ahead. Given the history of the deep pockets opposing her, it’s likely only a matter of time for the homophobic dog whistles to start.