October 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Feingold endorses Baldwin for Senate

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold (Official photo courtesy U.S. Senate)

A champion of progressive causes and former U.S. senator has endorsed lesbian candidate Tammy Baldwin in her bid for a U.S. Senate seat.

In an e-mail to supporters on Wednesday, Russ Feingold said he’s “proud” to throw his support behind Baldwin, who, if elected, would become the first openly gay person to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“Tammy is a true progressive champion, one of the strongest fighters for working families our state has ever produced and a hero to those of us who believe in breaking barriers and eliminating injustice in our society,” Feingold said. “I was proud to call her a colleague as we fought together in Washington for Wisconsin families — and I’ll be proud to call her my senator.”

Feingold identified Baldwin’s opposition to the Iraq war and opposition to repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, which some say led to the financial crisis of 2008, as evidence that she has the “guts to be a force for the middle class in the U.S. Senate.”

After losing his bid for re-election in 2010, Feingold founded the group Progressive United and has been working to overturn Citizens United, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate funding for independent political broadcasts in political campaigns.

Baldwin said she welcomes Feingold’s endorsement in a statement provided to the Washington Blade.

“I’m honored to have the support of Russ Feingold, a progressive champion who always puts Wisconsin’s working and middle class families first,” Baldwin said.

Feingold’s endorsement is a big boost for Baldwin because he’s popular in Wisconsin and has a following among progressives throughout the country.

According to the Huffington Post, the only other non-incumbent endorsement Feingold has made for Election 2012 is Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said Feingold’s support puts Baldwin in a good position to claim the Democratic banner for the general election.

“Sen. Feingold obviously shares her commitment to fighting for the middle class, so this is a pretty clear indication that Tammy Baldwin will be the Democratic nominee,” Dison said.

Baldwin is currently the only announced Democrat seeking the U.S. Senate seat in Wisconsin that’s being vacated at the end of next year by retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.).

However, Republican challengers have already declared their intentions to enter the field: former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson; Mark Neumann, a former U.S. Representative and conservative Republican who recently lost the 2010 GOP primary for governor; and Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.

Neumann and Fitzgerald are seen more conservative alternatives to the more mainstream Thompson.

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

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