September 6, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Baldwin announces bid for U.S. Senate
Tammy Baldwin

Tammy Baldwin announced Tuesday she would run for U.S. Senate. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The only out lesbian in Congress officially threw her hat in the ring to become the next U.S. senator from Wisconsin — and the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate — in an announcement Tuesday.

“I can’t wait to take my fight to the Senate: a fight to grow our economy, protect seniors, force Wall Street to clean up its act, and bring our troops home from Afghanistan,” Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) wrote in an email to supporters. “And I can’t wait to see you on the trail as we bring our campaign to every corner of Wisconsin.”

Baldwin has served in the U.S. House since 1999. A win for Baldwin would mean she would replace Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.), who announced earlier this year he would retire from the Senate upon the completion of his term next year.

“I know that, in this campaign, we’ll be up against some powerful special interests,” she said in her announcement. “But I’ve beaten the odds before. All my life, the naysayers have told me that I can’t win because I’m a progressive…because I’m a woman…even because I’m a lesbian. And I’ve proven them wrong because I’ve had rock-solid supporters like you standing with me.”

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Baldwin is no stranger to achieving victories for the LGBT community. Her election to the U.S. House in 1998 marked the first time a non-incumbent openly gay person was elected to Congress.

Gay advocates — particularly the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund — have been pushing Baldwin to make history again by seeking to become the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.

Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Victory Fund, praised Baldwin in a statement and said his organization would work hard to help her win in 2012.

“We are enormously proud that Tammy has taken this courageous step, and we will be strong supporters of her campaign,” Wolfe said. “Tammy’s record in Congress proves she’ll be a fighter in the Senate for expanding fairness and freedom for all Americans, and Wisconsin families will have no better advocate in Washington.”

The Victory Fund also announced the launch of a website, VictoryForTammy.com, which is dedicated to providing information to LGBT people about the Baldwin campaign. In addition to featuring news about the race and event information, the site will allow people to donate directly to her campaign.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, announced on the same day as Baldwin’s announcement that his organization has endorsed the lesbian lawmaker in her bid for a Senate seat.

“Tammy Baldwin’s candidacy for the U.S. Senate is monumental for both the state of Wisconsin and the country’s LGBT community,” Solmonese said. “Tammy has proven herself as an effective legislator over the course of her 13 years in Congress and this campaign will be a top priority for the Human Rights Campaign.”

Katie Belanger, executive director of the state equality group Fair Wisconsin, said the possibility of electing the first openly gay senator is “inspiring” and the Badger State “could not hope for stronger advocate for fairness and equality.”

“Tammy Baldwin has proven in the second congressional district that she can represent a diverse constituency, from farm families to college students to seniors,” Belanger said. “She is well-prepared to represent all of Wisconsin’s diverse communities and will have the vigorous statewide campaign necessary to win the state.”

Baldwin is likely to face primary opponents who are also seeking to carry the Democratic banner in the general election next year. A primary would take place in the first half of September 2012. Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wisc.), an eight-term member of the U.S. House, and Steve Kagen (D-Wisc.), a former House member, have been named as possible competitors.

Russ Feingold, a former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, was also seen as a possible opponent — and likely frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination — but announced last month that he wouldn’t seek elected office in 2012.

But Baldwin appears ahead other Democratic contenders in a hypothetical primary matchup. According to data published last week from Public Policy Polling, Baldwin leads in a three-way race with 37 percent compared to 21 percent for Kind and 15 percent for Kagen.

Additionally, Baldwin has raised significant money compared to her possible opponents. In the most recent Federal Election Commission reports, Baldwin posted $1.1 million in cash on hand after raising more than $600,000 thus far this election cycle. Comparatively, Kind has $478,000 in cash on hand after raising $592,000 this cycle. Kagen has no cash on hand and has only raised $18,000 this cycle.

But in the general election, Baldwin could face more of a challenge. The data from Public Policy Polling found that potential Republican opponents — like former Gov. Tommy Thompson or former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann — are marginally ahead of her in the polls.

The data from PPP shows that in a match between Neumann and Baldwin, Neumann would win 44-40, although 15 percent said they were undecided. In a contest between Thompson and Baldwin, Thompson would win 50-42, although eight percent of voters identified as undecided.

Last week, Neumann officially threw his hat into ring for the Republican nomination and asserted that he believes his opponent will be Baldwin in the general election.

While announcing his candidacy Monday morning, Neumann said, “I believe our opponent is Tammy Baldwin and I believe it is essential that we bring Tammy Baldwin’s record to the forefront.”

A Tea Party Republican, Neumann is more conservative than Thompson. During the 1990s, Neumann made headlines for anti-gay remarks made during his career as a U.S. House member.

According to the New York Times, Neumann said in 1996, “If I was elected God for a day, homosexuality wouldn’t be permitted, but nobody’s electing me God.”

Additionally, Neumann in 1997 suggested he wouldn’t hire an openly gay person as an office staffer during a speech to the Christian Coalition.

“If somebody walks in to me and says, ‘I’m a gay person, I want a job in your office,’ I would say that’s inappropriate, and they wouldn’t be hired because that would mean they are promoting their agenda,” he said. “The gay and lesbian lifestyle [is] unacceptable, lest there be any question about that.”

Watch the video of Baldwin announcing her Senate campaign here:

NOTE: This article has been updated.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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