"I love Tammy, but I just don't know if she can win statewide." This is the comment I heard a customer make to the clerk at the stand set up by Rainbow Book Co-Op, a leftist book store, at yesterday's WORT block party.
The membership of Rainbow Books may be one of the few groups that would be more likely to vote Democratic in the event of a Baldwin bid for Senate (at the expense of the Greens, socialists, communists, etc.).
Indeed, most attention on Baldwin's candidacy tends to focus on the votes she would lose. Madisonians seem very conscious that liberalism and lesbianism aren't a killer combo in other parts of the state.
Make no mistake, if Tammy runs, overt hostility to Madison and subtle (or overt) hostility to homosexuals will be central to the GOP campaign against her. But that doesn't mean it will work.
In fact, it would be fitting for Wisconsin to elect the first openly gay member of the Senate. The evidence suggests Wisconsinites like voting for minority candidates. For over a decade a state whose population is less than 0.5% Jewish was represented by two members of the tribe in the U.S. Senate. And in 2008, only 12 of Wisconsin's 72 counties passed on the chance to vote for the first black presidential candidate.
Oh, and Herb Kohl is long-rumored to be gay.
Yes, there's a big difference between closeted or alleged homosexuality and open homosexuality, but the fact is that questions about Kohl's orientation certainly didn't doom the senator the way they might in more socially conservative states. Kohl can earn a nickname like "The Dairy Queen" and not have to showcase a wife, kids and a golden retriever to convince voters he was looking out for Wisconsin, and not Gomorrah, in the U.S. Senate.
If Obama is popular and wins re-election, any Democrat, including Tammy Baldwin, has a good shot of winning --even against Tommy Thompson.
However, I would also add that a gay candidate would be at a greater advantage during a midterm election than a presidential one. As demonstrated in 2006, the issue of gay rights can mobilize young voters who otherwise would not vote in a midterm. In a presidential contest, however, those people will likely be voting anyway.
Also, remember that if Tammy is elected, she will be the first female senator to represent Wisconsin.
Madison will go crazy if Tammy declares
If Tammy declares, it will set in motion an epic chain of political races in Madison. As the State Journal explained, Baldwin cannot run simultaneously for House and Senate, meaning she will have to surrender her Congressional seat to one of the many hungry jackals lurking in Dane County most likely a state legislator.
I can see just about any of the Madison-area legislators declaring for Baldwin's seat, but I think the favorites would be Sen. Jon Erpenbach and Rep. Mark Pocan. You can bet others, including Brett Hulsey, Kelda Roys, Terese Berceau and Sondy Pope-Roberts would consider it.
My guess, however, would be that if Erpenbach declares, Roys or Pope-Roberts might wait and run for his Senate seat if he wins.* Similarly, if Sen. Fred Risser decides to finally retire, Pocan, Hulsey and Berceau might go for his seat. I can't imagine, however, that it will be easy for Hulsey to gather any institutional support for either bid after his antics last fall (and this winter and spring).
Of course, if any or all of the above run for Baldwin's seat, races for their seats would open up!
As Greg Packnett, a loyal reader and fact-checker, pointed out on facebook, Erpenbach's term is not up until 2014, meaning he can run for House and not forfeit his State Senate seat.
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