Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s potential to become the first openly gay Senator escalates the already sizable implications of the state’s open-seat race. When she jumps in, Baldwin will have a national fundraising network ready to mobilize.
The retirement of Sen. Herb Kohl (D) placed Wisconsin in the 2012 spotlight of states that could decide Senate control. Baldwin’s forthcoming candidacy represents another step forward for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, which has been buoyed in recent months by New York’s legalization of same-sex marriages and by polling showing a majority of Americans favor legal gay marriage.
The Democrat isn’t new to breaking down barriers. In 1998, Baldwin became the first woman to represent Wisconsin in Congress and the first openly gay nonincumbent to be elected to Congress. At the time, she was the only Wisconsin state legislator who was openly gay.
Baldwin now has a chance to do it again, and that possibility is exciting national women and gay rights groups, who are already rallying their supporters.
Groups including the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign have supported Baldwin’s political career for almost 20 years, and they intend to tap into their vast supporter lists to fully back a Senate bid by the seven-term Congresswoman, whose voting record has consistently been among the most liberal in the House.
“She has been part of the [consciousness] of our organization for two decades,” Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund spokesman Denis Dison told Roll Call.
“We are really excited to break a glass ceiling for the LGBT community that has been there for a long time. It would be our top priority in 2012,” Dison said.
EMILY’s List is expected to jump on board as well when Baldwin makes her candidacy official. The group, which works to elect women who support abortion rights, helped raise about a quarter of Baldwin’s $1.5 million in contributions in her first bid for Congress in 1998.
The Human Rights Campaign has more than a million members and supporters nationwide, and it already has a fundraising portal for Baldwin set up on its website.
“If Tammy decides to run for the Senate, we will step up our efforts to get the word out about her record,” HRC spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said. “It’s fair to say that she would have tremendous support just given the historic nature of her candidacy and that she is a credible, electable candidate that people would be really excited about.”
A “Run Tammy Run!” petition flashes on the front page of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund website, part of the group’s effort to encourage Baldwin to run. It plans on sending Baldwin the list of supporters already on board with her campaign, though Baldwin has already said she is likely to be a candidate.
The group endorsed 164 candidates last year from the local to federal levels. With its endorsements, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund offers strategic advice for campaigns, a donation from its political action committee and fundraising bundling. Dison said the group helped bundle half a million dollars for Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who in 2009 became the first openly gay mayor elected in a major city.
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