Republican vice-presidential candidate, and Ayn Rand fan boy, Paul Ryan isn’t the only big thing to come out of Wisconsin this year. There is also his polar opposite: former Wisconsin congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, a Democratic rising star with a labour movement past, whose current Senate race could make her America’s first openly gay senator. Wisconsin, a swing state, has a history of favouring Democrat politicians, but a recent history of electing Republican ones.
At the Democratic national convention earlier this month, Baldwin spoke on the same night as President Obama. She contrasted the Wisconsin “she knows” with the Wisconsin now controlled by her opponents: “You’ve heard a lot about Wisconsin lately,” said Baldwin. “You’ve heard about Paul Ryan, who wants to end Medicare as we know it. You’ve heard about Scott Walker, who took basic rights away from public employees. Maybe you’ve even heard about [former governor] Tommy Thompson, who went to Washington, cashed in on his special interest connections, and never really came back.”
“The Wisconsin I know,” she continued, in one of her only oratory nods to gay rights and marriage equality, “believes that with each passing year and generation, our country must become more equal, not less.” It was a speech about her country, couched in a speech about Wisconsin—especially fitting because the state’s official motto, “Forward,” is the same motto used by the Obama election campaign. Which means it’s the same motto Wisconsinite Republicans like Ryan and Thompson are forced to celebrate in their home state and deride on the national stage.
Baldwin is a career Democrat, labour rights activist, habitual pantsuit-wearer, and out lesbian. In other words she is the Republican party’s worst nightmare: “More liberal than Obama,” says National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson Lance Trover. If she beats Thompson and wins the Wisconsin senate seat, she’ll take what Thompson calls her “radical liberal” ideas to the Senate. But the Republicans may not have to worry after all: Baldwin, who was once ahead of Thompson, is now trailing her opponent by around eight percentage points. The Rothenberg Political Report, a non-partisan newsletter that covers U.S. politics, maintains that the race is still a “toss- up.” However, Thompson’s attack ads may be hitting Baldwin where it hurts, both politically and personally. The former congresswoman has downplayed her sexuality during the race, to no avail.
Thompson’s campaign director, Brian Nemoir, recently tweeted a YouTube video of Baldwin dancing with a group of drag queens at a Pride parade celebration in 2010. “Clearly, there’s no one better positioned to talk ‘heartland values’ than Tammy,” he wrote, sarcastically. Nemoir claims that his tweets “do not represent the views of clients or organizations” he’s involved with, but it’s safe to say that they represent Tommy Thompson’s. In a 2007 debate, while he was running in the Republican presidential primaries, Thompson said a person should be able to fire an employee because of his or her sexual orientation. Good thing he isn’t Baldwin’s boss.