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Gay Community Gears Up for Tammy Baldwin Senate Bid

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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.

“This is at an even higher level than that,” Dison said. “So we’d be looking to rally the LGBT community nationwide to support her campaign.”

What’s unclear is whether that financial support will keep other potential Democratic contenders out of the race. Rep. Ron Kind and former Sen. Russ Feingold have said recently that they will make a decision on the race by the end of the summer.

“The thing about her is, I think she’s doing the necessary research and studying the factors that would go into making a successful run,” Wisconsin-based Democratic consultant Doug Hill said. “The bottom line is, she’s not naive — she wouldn’t run unless she saw a clear path to victory.”

Baldwin’s political team did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but the groups expect her to declare her candidacy this summer. As of March 31, she had $709,000 in the bank. That sum is expected to be significantly higher when her second-quarter report is posted Friday.

Beyond the primary, Democrats are facing the increasing likelihood that former four-term Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) will run, so the party will need a top-tier candidate to win. Thompson turned down the chance to challenge Feingold last year, but indications in the state are that Thompson is in.

Like many others, though, Thompson is reportedly waiting to see what happens with the state Senate recall elections that begin today. That battle, sparked by a contentious fight with Republican Gov. Scott Walker over labor unions, is sucking up all of the state’s political attention and will offer an indication of each party’s political energy.

Republicans in the state note Baldwin’s voting record is the most liberal in the House and that Dane County Democrats don’t have the best statewide track record. Baldwin is popular in her own territory. She received the most raw votes of any House Democrat in 2010, winning 50,000 more votes than the next-closest Democrat to win last fall.

Katie Belanger, executive director of the LGBT advocacy group Fair Wisconsin and a former Baldwin campaign finance director, emphasized that Baldwin’s district is more than just liberal Madison.

“She has some very rural and socially conservative parts of her district that now vote overwhelmingly for her,” Belanger said.

In 1998, Baldwin replaced Republican Scott Klug, who retired after four terms in Congress. At a Madison press conference the day after she was elected, Baldwin recognized that her stature and importance to the LGBT community had been elevated, but she said she preferred to talk about her plans for representing the 2nd district.

“I will be a role model,” Baldwin said. “But I think most importantly I can make an impact by getting to Congress, addressing issues that make an impact in peoples’ daily lives.”

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