Election 2014  
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Wisconsin Progressive Tammy Baldwin Is Ahead And Could Tip U.S. Senate Balance

Baldwin's strength as a candidate has grown, despite GOP efforts labeling her as "too liberal."

Photo Credit: studio08denver via Flickr


New polls show Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the Democratic candidate for Wisconsin's vacant U.S. Senate seat, with a four-point lead over her Republican challenger, former governor Tommy Thompson, in a race which may determine control of the Senate and had previously been considered a lock for Republicans. If Baldwin is elected she would likely follow in the footsteps of Wisconsin's Russ Feingold and be one of the more independent and progressive members of the U.S. Senate.

Outside groups like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS and David Koch's Americans for Prosperity are spending millions on ads tagging Baldwin as "too liberal" for Wisconsin, and a variety of Democratic groups have criticized Thompson for his work at a lobbying firm with ties to outsourcing, helping make the state's close Senate race the second-most expensive for outside money in the country and the most expensive in state history. The intensity of the race has also made it exceptionally negative, underscoring how close the race has become and its national importance.

Baldwin's Success Defies Odds

Baldwin's success in the race has surprised many, as some observers had speculated Wisconsin was on its way to becoming a red state. In just the past two years, it elected Scott Walker as governor not once, but twice, and replaced liberal U.S. Senator Russ Feingold with Tea Party favorite Ron Johnson.

But Baldwin has gained support across the state by touting her strong record on trade policies that help workers rather than global corporations, appealing to Wisconsinites who work in the manufacturing and paper industries. Her first TV ad, for example, highlighted her support for "Buy American" provisions that would require the government to buy U.S.-made paper, and her efforts to crack down on Chinese government-subsidized imports. She has also criticized her Republican challenger Tommy Thompson for his work at a company that taught businesses how to outsource jobs, a message also advanced by independent groups spending to support her.

In recent weeks, the Koch-linked American Future Fund has attacked this record head-on with deceptive ads saying Baldwin supported EPA policies that would allegedly shut down eleven paper factories in the Fox River Valley, and Crossroads GPS has blanketed the state with mailers saying Baldwin's support for Obama's jobs bill means she supports creating jobs in China.

Baldwin has also proven to be an effective fundraiser. She has out-raised Thompson, $11.2 million to $5.7 million, but outside groups have helped level the playing field.

Thompson "He's Not For You Anymore"

Baldwin's success is even more surprising given that her challenger has long remained popular statewide and was widely expected to win. As Wisconsin's governor from 1987 to 2001, he governed as a moderate conservative and was reelected with wide margins. During the hard-fought 2012 GOP U.S. Senate primary, though, his moderate roots made him a target for out-of-state groups seeking to anoint a more conservative candidate. He was attacked in ads portraying him as a liberal from Super PACs like Club for Growth and dark money groups like Americans for Job Security, which pushed Thompson into taking far-right positions to survive the primary.

Since the primary, Thompson has been further attacked by groups supporting Baldwin that push the message he has changed since his time as Wisconsin's governor. In addition to criticizing his positions on taxes and outsourcing, the ads highlight Thompson's work at a Washington DC-based lobbying firm that represented the health care industry, after he was Health & Human Services Secretary under President George W. Bush.

Majority PAC has spent $2.9 million on the Wisconsin race and has run ads stating Thompson "made millions on K Street, working for a DC lobbying firm...how could Thompson ever represent us?" Women Vote!, the Super PAC for Emily's List, has spent $2.3 million and has run ads pushing a similar message, noting that Thompson "worked for a big DC lobbying firm" where he was "paid over $10 million as a DC insider, peddling his influence for the special interests." The Super PAC for public employee union AFSCME, AFSCME People, has spent $1.7 million on the race and is running ads pointing out Thompson's work for a "big DC lobbying firm, selling his influence to health care companies. Making millions helping insiders at our expense."