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5 Progressive Candidates To Watch As the 2012 Campaign Heats Up

Will Democrats take back Congress? Here are five candidates worth keeping an eye on as we get closer to Election 2012.

Watching the news lately, you'd think that Election 2012 was only between Republican candidates for president, each trying to outflank the next to his or her right.

The Republican primaries may be getting lots of attention, but several progressive candidates around the country are gearing up for races that could swing the Congress and put some control back in the hands of progressives.

It can be easy to despair when audiences at GOP debates cheer executions and boo gay soldiers, but the fight is far from over. With Barack Obama striking a new, more populist tone as election season nears, we should all remember that a lot can happen between now and next November. And attention early on for the good candidates can help ensure their success in primaries and general election campaigns alike.

While Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul eat up time on cable news with their latest out-there soundbite, we thought we'd bring you five progressive candidates to keep an eye on. Their message is resonating with people in their districts, and these candidates are ready to steal some of the spotlight back from the ultra-right with policies that would actually improve the lives of working people.

1. Tammy Baldwin—Wisconsin Senate

One of the hardest losses in the 2010 election was Russ Feingold's Senate seat, as conservatives swept Wisconsin's races. Yet just a few months later, Wisconsin was the center of a growing resistance to anti-worker, anti-union, pro-corporate politics, as hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites hit the streets and camped out in the capitol protesting Governor Scott Walker's attempt to strip union workers of their right to collectively bargain.

Walker won't be on the ballot in 2012, but there will be an open Senate seat, as Wisconsin's senior senator, Herb Kohl, is retiring. Tammy Baldwin, the only openly gay woman in the House, where she represents Madison and its surrounding areas, is running to be Wisconsin's next progressive champion.

"I know that, in this campaign, we’ll be up against some powerful special interests. But I've beaten the odds before. All my life, the naysayers have told me that I can't win because I'm a progressive, because I'm a woman, even because I'm a lesbian. And I've proven them wrong because I've had rock-solid supporters like you standing with me," she said when she announced her campaign.

Republicans are going to try to paint Baldwin as too liberal for the state, but as Wisconsinites already held insurgent recall elections this year and removed two Republican state senators from office, Baldwin's early move into the race seems to fit with the mood of her state.

Meredith Clark, a reporter and Wisconsin political watcher, said, “Baldwin has enough character and charisma to get votes from UW-Madison students and their farm-dwelling grandparents as an openly gay woman. She supports policies that are good for all of her constituents, and her constituents care more about that than right-wing moral panic.”

2. Eric Griego—New Mexico House District 1

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee's made its first endorsement for a 2012 Congressional race, and it's Eric Griego, currently a state senator and running for New Mexico's 1 st district House seat, as Democrat Rep. Martin Heinrich is vacating the seat to run for Senate.

The PCCC's email called Griego “one of the most progressive members of the New Mexico Senate,” and pointed out that he challenged a more conservative Democrat for his state senate seat. They jumped into the race to try to raise funds for Griego early and warn off more conservative Dems, saying that Griego will “vote to bring our troops home, tax big corporations and the rich, and protect Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts proposed by either party."