It’s so wonderful to be alive as the tides of history change.
It’s three weeks before the election and Baldwin’s narrowly winning a race she was supposed to lose. The Wisconsin seat is being vacated by Democrat Herb Kohl, an elfin retail-store tycoon who funded his own campaigns with the slogan “Nobody’s Senator but Yours.” (Republicans liked to shorten that to “Nobody’s Senator.”) The Republican candidate is Tommy Thompson, who won his first election in 1966, and won a fourth and final term as governor in 1998 by a 21-point landslide before becoming George W. Bush’s secretary of Health and Human Services. Six months ago, most projections of a GOP Senate takeover assumed that Thompson would defeat the liberal congresswoman from Madison.
“It’s a closer race than I would have hoped for,” says Sen. Ron Johnson, the Republican who beat Russ Feingold in the 2010 wave. “The polls show Tammy Baldwin ahead, and I don’t think anybody was expecting that.”
Thompson is 70 years old and looks it, and has adapted to the YouTube/Twitter era of campaigns with all the grace of Bobby Knight after a foul call. Baldwin is a natural. She’s also a lesbian. And nobody in Wisconsin thinks that’s hurt her. Scott Walker’s state may elect the first openly gay senator in American history, and it’s a total nonissue. It might even be helping Baldwin.
Ironically, the first black senator (Hiram Revels) was elected out of the state of Mississippi. Being around when an openly gay senator is elected will be of equal historical relevance. It’s a pity that this moment is getting lost beneath the din of the Presidential election.