Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard that Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl will not be seeking reelection to the United States Senate in 2012, leaving his seat up for grabs. There are already three announced Republican candidates for the seat currently held by Sen. Kohl, while Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Madison is the only Democrat in the race thus far.
Our conversation started with the first question candidates are typically asked when they decide to run for office, that being why she decided to run for office. When I asked Rep. Baldwin how she came to make her decision to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, Rep. Baldwin said her decision came out of a frustration she had – and still has – with the disconnect between Washington D.C. and the struggles Wisconsin families are facing. Rep. Baldwin rightly noted that the middle class is shrinking, and she said her frustration fueled her decision to run. Baldwin was also quick to note that she was also inspired by the many average Wisconsinites who have been voicing their opinions about what’s wrong in our state and our nation, and she added that she’s one public servant who’s been listening to what those average Wisconsinites have been saying. “I couldn’t stand to see Senator Kohl’s seat go to someone who’s not listening,” Rep. Baldwin added, a clear reference to the Republicans vying for Sen. Kohl’s seat.
As our conversation continued, I asked Rep. Baldwin how she planned to combat the inevitable conservative talking points attacking her as a “Madison liberal” who’s out of touch with average Wisconsinites, and Baldwin responded by expressing confidence that as she travels the state during her U.S. Senate campaign Wisconsinites will come to find out how much they have in common while focusing less on what may divide them. Rep. Baldwin added that as she traveled across Wisconsin helping with the various recall efforts, she heard a lot of commonality about how mightily Wisconsinites are struggling.
Rep. Baldwin also noted that her Senate campaign will be based out of Milwaukee, not Madison, stating that her campaign is not about one city or one particular part of the state. Finally, Rep. Baldwin pointed out that she succeeded a Republican Congressman in a district that at the time was less liberal-leaning than it is today, being 1/3 urban, 1/3 rural, and 1/3 suburban at the time.
Asked about her U.S. Senate campaign gaining the endorsement of former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, Rep. Baldwin said she was “so honored” to have Sen. Feingold’s endorsement, adding that she believes the endorsement will be a huge boost to her campaign. Rep. Baldwin added that part of the appeal of Sen. Feingold’s endorsement is the fact that he and Rep. Baldwin share a common ideology on a number of issues, with their opposition to the Iraq War and their shared opposition to the repeal of provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act being two of those issues. Both Feingold and Baldwin support the restoration of the separation between investment banking which issued securities and commercial banks which accepted deposits, a separation that was repealed in 1999.
As our interview drew to a close, I asked Rep. Baldwin if she expected any other Democrats to jump into the race to succeed Sen. Kohl in the U.S. Senate, and she quickly noted there’s no way of predicting whether other Democrats will jump into the race. Rep. Baldwin did note that with each passing day her campaign is more and more organized, her endorsement list grows longer, and her fundraising continues to get stronger. “As the campaign comes together, it’s less and less likely that another Democratic candidate will emerge,” said Baldwin.
Given the importance Democrats have placed on retaining the Senate seat currently held by Herb Kohl, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Rep. Baldwin found herself as the only Democratic candidate. While I’m ordinarily not a fan of uncontested primaries for open seats, in the case of the seat currently held by Sen. Kohl an uncontested Democratic primary would give Rep. Baldwin the chance to raise money and her statewide profile while the Republican U.S. Senate candidates tear each other down and burn through their campaign coffers.