Baldwin edges into the lead

Tammy Baldwin

After trailing a popular former governor for weeks, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin has now edged into the lead for the U.S. Senate seat from Wisconsin.

But there are still five long weeks to go before November 6, right-wing political groups are pouring millions into television ads that label Baldwin as “extreme” and “not in the mainstream.” And last Friday, September 28, the issue of same-sex marriage came up in the first debate.

The “debate” was more of a joint interview of the two candidates by a panel of reporters, and same-sex marriage was just one topic on which the two candidates showed themselves to be starkly different.

One of three panelists asking questions noted that different states are doing different things about same-sex marriage, then asked, “What’s your stand on that?”

Republican candidate Tommy Thompson went first and harkened back six years, to when voters approved a state constitutional amendment to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages or civil unions, by a vote of 59 percent to 41 percent.

“Seventy-one out of the 72 counties voted for a constitutional amendment in Wisconsin. I support those 71 counties –that same-sex marriage is not legal in the state of Wisconsin, and I support that,” said Thompson, looking at the reporter. “It’s an issue that’s left up to the states and that’s the way it should be.”

In a commentary Sunday in the Milwaukee Journal, commentator Christian Schneider, a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, described Thompson’s response this way: “At one point during his answer, he paused for a good five seconds to navigate all the land mines that were likely lodged in his mind.  It was evident he had a vision of Tammy Baldwin dancing with Wonder Woman floating around in his head and needed a quiet moment to suppress it.”

But Baldwin appeared surprisingly guarded and stiff with her response on same-sex marriage during the debate. Looking straight into the camera and with an almost hushed tone and strained expression on her face, she said, “I believe in the principles of equality and I certainly support marriage equality. I recognize what the voters of Wisconsin decided in 2006. We know that, every year, people are thinking about this issue and changing their minds.” She noted she was “very moved” when President Obama explained to an ABC interviewer in May how he his personal opinion had evolved to support marriage equality.

Baldwin’s answer was expected. And Thompson’s answer was only marginally evolved from earlier responses he has given on same-sex marriage. During the Republican primary, he said, “I believe very strongly in the Defense of the Marriage Act (sic), that marriage is one man and one woman. I support that. That’s the federal law.”

In that interview August 3 with CBS affiliate WDJT, Thompson did express being a little “gun shy” about constitutional amendments, generally. Still, he said he favors DOMA and believes “marriage should be left up to the states.”

The race is very close and is beginning to turn nasty. In the debate September 28, Thompson said Baldwin is “not in the mainstream,” a seeming reference to her being gay, though it wasn’t at all clear that he intended it that way. He also claimed she was the “Number One Liberal” in the U.S. House, and the “Number One Spender.”

Pro-Thompson television ads label Baldwin as “extreme” –“too extreme for Wisconsin.” The Karl Rove group called Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies is pouring millions of dollars into the campaign to air television ads that also label Baldwin as “extreme” and show her angrily saying “You’re damn right we’re making a difference” about something.  Other big spenders opposing Baldwin include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Club for Growth Action, according to Federal Elections Commission records.

Baldwin is also hoping to become the first openly gay person to be elected to the U.S. Senate. She and Thompson seek a seat being vacated by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl.

The New York Times election numbers cruncher,, currently gives Baldwin a 76 percent chance at winning the seat with 51 percent of the vote. Its average of polls shows Baldwin with a 2.6-point lead.

Two more debates are scheduled between the two –October 18 and October 26.

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