Baldwin's aced this test before. Dison of the Victory Fund says that Baldwin followed the model that they counsel for all out candidates:
Straightforwardly acknowledge being gay, and return the focus to the campaign's main issues. What wins is steadily returning the focus to the race's
issues -- message discipline, that time-honored requirement for all political campaigns. Treat one's sexual orientation as a politically irrelevant
fact, in other words, and poof, it is so.
Targeting a candidate for being gay does happen -- but it can backfire even in unlikely places. For example, in Houston, when out candidate Annise
Parker ran for mayor, Dison says, "a group spent tens of thousands of dollars on a mailer that was blatantly antigay. It featured a picture of her, her
spouse, and her kids, and asked: 'Is this what you want Houston's first family to look like?'" Parker is now Houston's mayor.
And so folks on both sides told me, very unofficially, that they're looking to downplay the issue and are working to keep even the most unofficial
sympathizers or third-party groups from making it a big deal. The Baldwin campaign, when I asked for comment, emailed that they didn't have enough
staffers yet to respond.
So what about Baldwin's other groundbreaking potential: the possibility of being elected the first Wisconsin senator who's openly female? She's already
the first female Wisconsin has ever sent to Congress -- and so that too will probably fade behind the bigger issue of political philosophy. It might
even get her underestimated -- and will certainly bring in additional support from
national women's groups, including her early endorser and longtime backer EMILY's List.
National Democrats are set to back her enthusiastically, and consider the state a high priority. Other backers on the left -- from unions to women's
groups to LGBT funders -- love her: she's forthright and fearless about "standing up for the middle class," as she puts it. In one campaign video, she specifically touts her original opposition to the Iraq war and her opposition to dismantling the
Glass-Steagall Act --which "could have avoided the mess we're in today." Explained EMILY's List deputy communications director Jess McIntosh, "That
kind of passion and candor is very attractive to our members. Our folks supported her in her initial run for the House. They're wild about the fact
that she's running for Senate."
Republicans, for their part, are salivating to attack her on that very same record. Consider the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC)'s
official statement when Baldwin entered the race: "In the years
she's already spent in Washington, Tammy Baldwin has been an avowed supporter of job-killing tax hikes, reckless deficit spending, and out-of-control
debt. We look forward to the clear contrast this race will provide between an extreme Madison liberal versus a common-sense, pro-jobs and fiscally
responsible Republican candidate."