Wisconsin: Second District|
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D)
Last Updated June 29, 1999
On a narrow isthmus between Lakes Mendota and Monona is the center of Madison and, in many ways, the center of Wisconsin. Here the state Capitol rises at the one end of State Street; at the other end of several commercial blocks is the main campus of the University of Wisconsin, on a beautiful, parklike, sometimes windswept setting above Lake Mendota. For most of this century, Wisconsin politics was dominated by the Madison-based LaFollettes and their liberal Democratic successors. And the traffic on State Street was two-way, with university faculty devoted to Bob LaFollette's ''Wisconsin idea'' of an apolitical bureaucracy, his Wisconsin Tax Commission and workmen's compensation law--both firsts in the nation. Now there is more division, with the liberal campus at odds with the welfare and school choice reforms of Governor Tommy Thompson. But there is a steady debate carried on here between the liberal Madison Capital-Times and its conservative rival, the Wisconsin State Journal, with a much larger circulation; the two newspapers practice the kind of partisan journalism still seen in only a few major cities and state capitals (Detroit, Boston, Sacramento). Meanwhile, Madison's varied economy is thriving, with unemployment in January 1999 at about 1.4%, but down to as low as 1.2% in recent years.
Madison is the center of Wisconsin's 2d Congressional District and, with surrounding Dane County, casts some 70% of the district's votes. The rest are in several rural dairy counties which are more Republican and conservative; they include such picturesque Wisconsin scenes as Frank Lloyd Wright's home, Taliesin, the Swiss-settled town of New Glarus, and the headquarters of Lands' End in Dodgeville. Madison was LaFollette country for the first half of the century, and very liberal and Democratic for most of the second, enough so that, despite the Republican leanings of the rural counties, the 2d District voted for George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984. It also spawned an activist and sometimes violent student movement (during the Vietnam war, a graduate student was killed in a laboratory by a bomb set off by a protester) and a permanent postgraduate proletariat. But there has been some mellowing out. Grad students stuck in the 1960s have left, and there are now Republicans as well as Democrats among undergraduates. And Madison has even been known to vote Republican, for Governor Tommy Thompson in 1994 and in 2d Congressional District races in the 1990s. But overall this is a mostly Democratic district; it voted 55%-33% for Bill Clinton in 1996.
The congresswoman from the 2d District is Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat elected in 1998. She grew up in Madison, where she was raised by her mother (a University of Wisconsin student when she was born) and her maternal grandparents, a UW biochemist and the theater department's head costume designer. She graduated first in her class at Madison West High School and went on to Smith College and UW Law School. In 1986, at 24, while still in law school, she was elected to the Dane County Board of Commissioners; in 1992 she was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly from a heavily Democratic Madison seat; in her first term she chaired the Elections Committee. She was proud of a law requiring campaigns to file disclosure reports electronically; her greatest disappointment was passage of a 24-hour waiting period for abortions.
In 1998 the 2d District seat opened up when Republican Congressman Scott Klug honored his promise to serve only four terms. Klug, a TV anchor, had a moderate record which helped him win re-election by wide margins three times. But when Klug announced his retirement in February 1997, the 2d District seemed the Democrats' best chance for an open-seat pickup. The 1998 contest eventually attracted 10 candidates, all but one of whom proved serious contenders--four Democrats and six Republicans. Entering the Democratic race early were Rick Phelps, Dane County executive for nine years, and state Senator Joe Wineke, a legislator for 15 years, and Baldwin. The three took similar liberal stands on issues, and had worked together on some matters; Phelps's wife, Hannah Rosenthal, was one of Baldwin's mentors in Democratic politics. But Baldwin had special advantages. As a woman with great political skills, she was supported by EMILY's List, which helped raised about one-quarter of her $1.5 million. And as a self-proclaimed lesbian, she had support from national gay and lesbian organizations, and raised money from a large and affluent national constituency. With almost all (86%) of Democratic votes cast in Dane County, this was mostly a Madison contest. Baldwin won with 37% of the votes, to 35% for Phelps and 27% for Wineke, who carried the small-county vote.
Baldwin in some ways was the focus of the Republican primary as much as the Democratic. Most of the Republicans ran as pro-choice fiscal conservatives: former state Insurance Commissioner Jo Musser, UW history professor John Sharpless, beer distributor Don Carrig, chiropractor Meredith Bakke. To their right was former congressional aide and Dane County Republican Chairman Nick Fuhrman. But most prominent in the spotlight was Ron Greer, a black minister and Madison firefighter who was suspended from the force for distributing what many considered anti-gay literature. Greer relished the prospect of running against Baldwin, saying that she had a right to live as she wished, but that he opposed her allegedly radical gay rights agenda. He got vocal support from Green Bay Packer and preacher Reggie White and presidential candidate Alan Keyes, and from national Christian conservatives Gary Bauer and Dr. James Dobson. One bumper sticker read: ''Annoy the liberals in Madison, vote for Ron Greer.'' This was a race almost anybody could have won; the counties beyond Dane County cast 41% of the votes and made the difference. Musser ran first there, ahead of Carrig; she ran third in Dane County, behind Sharpless and Greer. Overall, Musser had 21% of the vote, Greer 20%, Sharpless 18%, Carrig 17%, Fuhrman 14% and Bakke 10%. Musser led Greer by only 394 votes, and for a time Greer considered a recount. He was encouraged to run as a write-in, but said that he would ''stay out of it'' and support Governor Tommy Thompson and Senate nominee Mark Neumann.
The primary results guaranteed that Wisconsin would elect its first woman member to Congress (the other states that have not are an odd bunch: Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Vermont). But Baldwin's candidacy seemed to rouse the enthusiasm of Madison liberals in a way not seen in years. Baldwin called for a single-payer health insurance system, and suggested that Musser was dominated by cash from insurance companies; Musser, a nurse who founded the Madison Employers Health Care Alliance, argued that single-payer would reduce choices and create long waiting periods for elective surgery. Musser did not attack Baldwin for her support of same-sex marriage or public financing of campaigns--unpopular positions in most districts--but campaigned as a friend of small business and burdened taxpayers. Both sides were well-financed: Baldwin, fortified with contributions from national liberals, spent almost $1.5 million; Musser, fortified by nearly $300,000 of her own money, spent $872,000. The difference may have been due to high turnout in Madison and Dane County, higher than in any off-year election in years. Some precincts ran out of ballots and had to photocopy more; Governor Tommy Thompson, with some hyperbole, later credited the Madison turnout with reducing his own percentage, defeating Mark Neumann and re-electing Senator Russ Feingold, and allowing Democrats to win a seat that gave them control of the state Senate (their nominee was Feingold's brother-in-law) Dane County, which cast 73% of the district's votes, went 57%-42% for Baldwin; Musser's 59%-40% margin in the smaller counties was not enough to overcome that margin, and Baldwin won 53%-47%.
Baldwin thus became the first openly homosexual candidate to win election to Congress; the two other openly gay members of the House, Barney Frank and Jim Kolbe, divulged their sexual orientation after they had served several terms. Baldwin said that she did not want to be seen primarily as a lesbian congresswoman: ''I have frequently said I will do more to advance gay and lesbian civil rights in this country if I become the congressperson associated with health care for everyone--who just happens to be lesbian.'' And she expressed confidence her constituents would approve her work. ''They'll be able to watch what I do. I feel very comfortably they'll find I represent a broad cross-section of values.''
Potentially Competitive. Baldwin's tremendous fundraising skills and the underlying Democratic and liberal nature of this district make beating Baldwin a tall order for Republicans. But, like every other freshman member, Baldwin does have to be careful in her first term and avoid political miscues that could give a Republican an opening for attack.
- Pop. 1990: 543,625
- 36.5% rural;
11.9% age 65+;
- 95.5% White,
0.3% Amer. Indian,
1.1% Hispanic origin;
54.3% married couple families;
26.2% married couple fams. w. children;
52.6% college educ.;
median household income: $30,625;
per capita income: $14,319;
median gross rent: $396;
median house value: $70,000.
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