Wisconsin Progressive Tammy Baldwin Is Ahead And Could Tip U.S. Senate Balance
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Thompson has received significant outside support from chemistry industry trade group the American Chemistry Council, which has spent nearly $649,000 on positive pro-Thompson ads. He is the top beneficiary of spending by the chemistry group, which is seeking to block efforts to update the 36-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act on the federal level, and is a member of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Thompson has long ties to ALEC and has received awards from the right-wing organization. His ALEC ties have not become a central issue in the campaign, but some reporters have questioned him about it, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's top reporter Dan Bice. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee has used the connection to recruit volunteers for Baldwin.
Baldwin Would be First Openly Gay U.S. Senator
If elected, Baldwin would be the first openly gay U.S. Senator in history, and at least some of the money spent backing her (or attacking Thompson) is traceable to gay rights supporters. The top donor to Women Vote! is the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund (GLVF), which has given $325,000; GLVF has also contributed $10,000 directly to Baldwin's campaign. Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner is a top Democratic donor and major funder of LGBT rights organizations, and has donated $800,000 to Majority PAC and $50,000 to GLVF. He has previously described Baldwin as one of his personal heroes.
Thompson has not yet made an issue of Baldwin's sexual orientation, but his silence on the issue has not stopped his supporters. In September, Thompson's campaign manager sent an email and tweeted a video of Baldwin dancing at a gay pride parade with a message questioning her "heartland values." State Senator Glenn Grothman issued a news release criticizing Baldwin's "radical agenda" (the same claim made by the Thompson campaign), but specifically and erroneously claimed that Baldwin introduced a bill that would force doctors to ask patients about their sexual orientation. In recent weeks, CitizenLink, a group associated with the Religious Right organization Focus on the Family, has begun sending mailers and running internet ads attacking Baldwin for supporting gay marriage rights, and internet ads have appeared from the group Public Advocate criticizing Baldwin for advancing the "Homosexual Agenda." Others, such as the Washington Times, have urged Thompson to focus on Baldwin's sexual orientation -- and it remains to be seen whether he will do so in these final days.
Polls Bounce Back and Forth, Following National Trends
Polling showed Thompson leading Baldwin significantly through August, according to some polls by double-digits. But after the August 5 primary the Thompson campaign took a break, during which time Baldwin and her supporters ran ads increasing her name recognition with Wisconsinites and re-framing Thompson as a DC insider.
In addition to the ad spending, the Thompson-Baldwin poll numbers have been strongly affected by national trends. Baldwin took the lead in September, after the Democratic National Convention, when Obama also began polling well, and retained it throughout that month as Democrats led nationally after Romney's controversial 47% video. The Wisconsin Senate race, like the presidential race, has narrowed in recent weeks after the Republican surge following the first presidential debate.
Though polls currently show Baldwin with the lead, among likely voters the race is a virtual tie, and the outcome may depend on the presidential race. "The two votes are very, very highly correlated, much more so than they were earlier in the year," said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette University Law School poll.
Still, Wisconsin's truly independent voters can be unpredictable -- as many as 12 percent of Wisconsin voters who supported Governor Scott Walker in last June's recall will also support President Obama's reelection.