August 14, 2012 at 11:41 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Meet Baldwin’s opponent: Tommy Thompson

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (photo public domain)

The build up over whom lesbian U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin will face in the general election came to an end Tuesday night when Wisconsin voters gave the GOP nomination to former Gov. Tommy Thompson.

The Associated Press called the election for Thompson at around 11:30 in the evening. According to — a project of Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television — Thompson had around 34 percent of the vote.

The GOP candidate who came closest was hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, who had 30.9 percent of the vote. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann had 22.8 percent while Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald had 12.4 percent.


On the same night, Baldwin officially claimed the Democratic nomination in her pursuit of the seat that Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) is vacating at the end of this year, putting her in a position to become the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.

Thompson has a long history of service in public office. He served as Wisconsin’s governor from from 1987 to 2001 and was secretary of health and human services under former President George W. Bush. In 2008, Thompson sought the Republican nomination to run for the White House, but dropped out early in his bid.

Thompson’s victory in the Republican primary is probably the worst outcome for Baldwin because the former governor is popular in his state and was seen as a moderate candidate with the greatest appeal to the mainstream voters. Still, he didn’t have the self-financing capability of Hovde, who funded 92 percent of his campaign with millions of his own money.

In a statement issued on the night of the primary, Baldwin tore into Thompson, saying he’ll “stand with those who already have too much power and influence in Washington.”

“I will fight to do what’s right for the middle class and Thompson will put those at the very top and the big monied special interests in Washington ahead of Wisconsin’s hard working families,” Baldwin said. “I will take on these powerful interests in Washington, and in the Senate, I will stand up for Wisconsin’s middle class, as I always have.”

Among the policies that Baldwin said she’ll push for include a “Made in Wisconsin” manufacturing economy; tax cuts for small business to fuel job creation; ending tax breaks for outsourcing and giving companies tax incentives to create jobs within the United States.

“Tommy Thompson supports the policies of the past,” Baldwin said. “Policies that have failed. Policies from the past that crashed our economy, and got us into our fiscal mess in the first place. He believes we should slash the very investments we need to move our economy forward, in education, innovation, and infrastructure — all while cutting taxes for those at the very top.”

Recent polls have put Baldwin either dead-even with Thompson or him with a single-digit lead. In a CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac poll published last week, Baldwin ties Thompson, 47-47. In a Marquette University poll, Thompson leads Baldwin 48-43.

Still, Baldwin is in good position to take on Thompson in terms of fundraising; she’s nearly trebled the funds the GOP candidate has raised. According to Federal Election Commission reports, Baldwin has $7.1 million in net receipts, $4.7 million in net expenditures and $3.2 million in cash on hand. None of her net receipts are the result of self-financing.

In comparison, Thompson has $2.5 million in net receipts, $2.1 million in net expenditures and $198,000 in cash on hand. Around $133,000, or five percent, of his net receipts are the result of contributions to his own campaign.

The Republican primary fell on the same day that LPAC, the lesbian Super PAC launched by Chicago Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts, announced it has endorsed Baldwin and would match every dollar that individuals give to her campaign through the Super PAC up to $50,000. That means the group has a goal of raising $100,000 for Baldwin.

Arguably, Thompson was the least opposed to LGBT rights of the four major Republican candidates in the running. During an interview with Wisconsin’s CBS 58 earlier this year, he said marriage should be left to the states and he backs the Defense of Marriage Act, but stopped short of endorsing a Federal Marriage Amendment for the U.S. Constitution.

“I believe very strongly in the Defense of the Marriage Act,” Thompson said. “Marriage is one man and one woman. I support that. That’s the federal law. I’m a little gun shy of people saying, ‘We got to have constitutional amendments for this or that. I happen to like our Constitution, and, I think, you should not be going around amending constitutions.”

During a 2008 Republican presidential debate, Thompson said “yes” when questioned whether employers should be able fire people if they’re gay, but later said he answered the question incorrectly and doesn’t believe in discrimination. Thompson said he backs Wisconsin’s statewide law against discrimination against gays — enacted in 1982 and the first-ever in the country — but stopped short of saying he’d support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

“I didn’t hear the question properly and I apologize,” Thompson said. “It’s not my position. There should be no discrimination in the workplace and I have never believed that. And, in fact, Wisconsin has one of the first laws, which I supported.”

As secretary of health and human services, Thompson headed Bush’s domestic effort against HIV/AIDS, renewing the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, announcing approval of rapid testing and directing funds to confront the epidemic. But Thompson also worked for a president who touted abstinence-only education and remained silent on gay men and condoms for much of his administration.

On the other hand, as the first non-incumbent openly gay person elected to the U.S. House, Baldwin not only supported, but has taken the lead on pro-LGBT legislation and helped guide it through Congress. Baldwin voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006. In later years, she voted for hate crimes protections legislation, a sexual orientation-only version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article incorrectly referred to Tammy Baldwin as the first openly gay person to have a major party nomination in a bid for a U.S. Senate seat. That distinction actually goes to Ed Flanagan of Vermont, whom the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund endorsed in 2000. Flanagan lost his bid to incumbent Jim Jeffords, who was a Republican at the time. The Blade regrets the error.

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

  • The time to elect Tammy Baldwin to the Senate is NOW! Her vision for the future of the country and her being a member of the LGBT community and running openly will guarentee that for the first time we have an ‘out’ member of the community at the table in the Senate. We know what a difference having Barney Frank, Tammy and others in the House has meant. It is not good enough to thave a bunch of closeted LGBT community members in the Senate. Their fear of being ‘outed’ always makes them less effective as advocates if they do believe we should have civil and human rights. And maybe Tammy being in the Senate will give some of the others the courage to come out.

    Our country is slowly moving forward and having someone of Tammy’s intelligence and views will help us to continue the forward momentum. I think it is time to finally retire Tommy Thompson from politics.

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