Progressive Messaging Wins – Just ask Tammy Baldwin

Terrance Heath

In a night that was full of sweet victories, few were sweeter than Democrat Tammy Baldwin’s successful bid for Wisconsin’s senate seat. As she said in her acceptance speech, it was “a huge victory for Wisconsin’s middle class.” Baldwin’s victory was all that and more. The new Wage Class War website spells it out. Along with President Obama’s reelection victory, and those of progressive senate candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Heidi Heitkamp, Jon Tester, and Sherrod Brown, Baldwin’s success helped define 2012 as the year that “candidates who supported the economic interests of the many over the few won their elections.”

Dubbed a “trusty progressive” by the New York Times, Baldwin will give middle- and working-class Americans across the country reason to celebrate having a strong populist voice in the Senate.

In her victory speech, Baldwin downplayed the fact that her victory made her Wisconsin’s first woman senator, and the first open gay U.S. senator. “I didn’t run to make history,” she insisted. In a sense, that’s appropriate, because Baldwin’s orientation was essentially a nonissue in her campaign.

Voters didn’t’ care that Baldwin was gay. During the campaign, her supporters said the issue just didn’t come up much. That is, except with Baldwin’s GOP opponent and his supporters brought it up. When Tommy Thompson’s political director attacked Baldwin for celebrating gay pride, voters didn’t care. (Thompson distanced himself from his political director’s anti-gay attack, perhaps to avoid drawing attention to his extensive anti-gay record.) When a Washington Times columnist attacked Baldwin as a “radical lesbian,” and called her “Barney Frank in a dress,” voters didn’t care.

Wisconsin voters cared about health care. Baldwin succinctly summed up the difference between herself and Tommy Thompson on health care reform:

“Voters have a choice of moving forward with the Affordable Care Act and its implementation or electing a candidate who would rip it up and start all over again from scratch,” she said. “As I run for the U.S. Senate, I run for the opportunity to work on a bipartisan basis to implement the Affordable Care Act as it was passed and address anything about it that isn’t working, that isn’t helping the people of Wisconsin and people across this country.”

On election day, voters made Baldwin one of the candidate who ran on Obamacare and won.

Wisconsin voters cared about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Baldwin shared her personal experience with Social Security and Medicare.

Baldwin told voters that she supported raising taxes for the wealthy, and opposed cuts to these programs, and voters decided to send her to D.C. to speak for them.

Thompson, on the other hand, said to his supporters, “Who better than me … to do away with Medicaid and Medicare?”

Baldwin sponsored the “Buffet Rule,” to restore tax fairness. Thompson, on the other hand, supported Grover Norquist’s tax pledge, and supported new tax cuts for the rich. On election day, Thompson was one of the Republican candidates who lost the argument on taxes.

Baldwin told a local Wisconsin television station that Social Security “shouldn’t even been on the table” during “grand bargain” discussions.

Voters didn’t care about Baldwin’s orientation, because Baldwin didn’t run on a platform of becoming the first woman senator from Wisconsin, or the first gay U.S. senator ever. Baldwin ran on the message she articulated in her victory speech.

… Tonight—tonight we have won a huge victory for Wisconsin’s middle class!

And it is that battle for Wisconsin’s middle class that has been what this journey is all about. Everywhere that I have gone in our beautiful state, people have told me that they want a senator who will listen to the middle class when they want help. A senator who will stand on the side of the middle class. A senator who will wake up every morning and fight for the middle class. They have told me that they want an economy in which everyone plays by the same rules and does their fair share!

They have told me that they want a level playing field. One where China cant cheat our workers, millionaires cant dodge taxes, and wall street cant crash our economy with risky gambling. They have told me that they want to pay down our debt without short changing our future. They have told me that they want to be able to rely on the guarantees of Medicare and SS not just today but for future generations. Most of all, they have told me the special interests have too much power in Washington and it is time for the people’s voice to be heard!

… Now, I am well aware that I will have the honor of being WI’s first woman senator! And I am well aware that I will be the first openly gay member!

But—but I didn’t run to make history. I ran to make a difference! A difference in the lives of families struggling to find work and pay their bills. A difference in the lives of students worried about debt. And seniors worried about their retirement security. A difference in the lives of veterans who fought for us and need someone fighting for them and their families. A difference in the lives of entrepreneurs trying to build a business and working people trying to build some economic security. But in choosing me as the person to tackle those challenges, the people of WI have made history. And I can’t tell you how grateful I am in the trust you have placed in me, and all I can tell you is that I will work as hard as I can to keep that trust!

Yet, her victory was history-making.

Baldwin emerged victorious in one of the closest senate races in the country, against four-term former Republican governor Tommy Thompson, in a state that’s home to one of the right-wingers like Scott Walker and Paul Ryan, and disproved conservative claims that progressive politics were a thing of the past in Wisconsin.

Baldwin said voters told her that special interests had too much power in Washington, and the election results bear that out. Baldwin defeated Republican Tommy Thompson, who was the epitome of the Washington insider bought by special interests —from earning millions as a lobbyist by cashing in on his status as a former Health & Human Services secretary (because his wife “like to shop”) to working for firm that helped companies ship jobs overseas.

Tammy Baldwin won her election, and will join other progressive winners in Senate because voters saw in her a candidate who would speak up and stand up for their concerns, and be their voice against powerful corporate interests — and who just happens to be a lesbian.

So, yes, Tammy Baldwin made history last Tuesday night. And for all the right reasons.

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