In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) insisted that she did not want her senatorial campaign to revolve around her sexuality but around her capability as a leader.
“The people of Wisconsin are looking for someone who will be a fighter for them,” Baldwin said in the call, which was hosted by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. “I have taken on incredibly tough challenges over the years that I’ve had the privilege of serving in the House…People also will recognize that I’ve got a lifetime commitment to equality for all. They’ll learn that I’m not afraid to stand up to big tough opponents.”
Baldwin announced her campaign for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Herb Kohl’s (D-WI) retirement in an online video Tuesday. If elected, Baldwin would the U.S. Senate’s first openly gay member as well as the first woman to represent Wisconsin in the chamber. When she was elected to the House in 1998, she was the first Wisconsin woman in that chamber as well.
The first hurdle she’ll have to face for the 2012 senatorial election, she said, is name recognition. She said she polls at 52 to 55 percent name recognition in the state, which is a grain of sand when compared to Tommy Thompson, the state’s former governor and a Republican contender for the seat.
Baldwin said the early stages of her campaign will be based on traveling and introducing herself to voters, especially because the seat will be hotly contested. She said that she announced her campaign via video in the hope that it would be shared virally.
“There’s going to be someone out there trying to introduce me to voters before I introduce myself and they won’t be as friendly,” she said of the potential for negative campaigning. “Now’s the time we can get there before they do.”
Politically, she said she has not made a plan for her course of action if another Democrat declares their candidacy. Though she name-dropped both Kohl and the popular former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) in her campaign announcement, neither has a plan to get directly involved in the primary. She called Feingold “a dear friend” as well as a constituent in her House district, and lauded the “huge shoes to fill” that Kohl leaves behind.
Though they won’t campaign directly in the early stages, however, Baldwin hinted to Raw Story that she had their support.
“Both offered strong words of encouragement to me,” Baldwin said. “They’re happy that I’m putting my hat in the ring. I am obviously the first Democrat to be in the field and I expect to be in touch with them throughout the campaign.
“They have a lot of counsel for me and I will certainly want to avail myself to it.”