Baldwin’s Got the Blue Print

Sen. Tammy Baldwin announced yesterday, to no one’s surprise, that she’ll seek a third term. She’s likely to get it.

So far, no Republican has stepped up to challenge her. By this time in his reelection cycle, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson had four serious challengers vying for the chance to take him on as the Democratic standard bearer. So, that tells you something about how eager Republicans are to face Baldwin. Not so much.

It’s true that Baldwin has had some luck in her election years. Her first win came in 2012 in Barack Obama’s reelection year, but still, she beat iconic Wisconsin pol Tommy Thompson in an upset. The cycle in 2018 was something of a backlash against Donald Trump, but on the other hand, Republicans had a hard time scraping up an opponent and she toasted state Sen. Leah Vukmir. Next year could be another good one for Democrats if the economy can stay out of recession, inflation continues to cool, and Republicans keep handing them gifts on the abortion issue.

Tammy Baldwin knows how to win in Wisconsin.

Baldwin is an unabashed liberal who wins in a purple state. Hers is a formula Democrats should study to understand how to do this right. I would say her success comes down to the following components:

Personality. Like Gov. Tony Evers, Baldwin is understated. She’s whip smart and certainly could come up with the snappy quote if she wanted. But she’s disciplined and restrained. She doesn’t say stupid things and she doesn’t make mistakes. She never squanders political capital. Overall, she is just a likable, sincere person and that comes through to voters. She may have gone to Smith, but she’s very Midwest.

Pork. I worked with Baldwin when she was in Congress and I was Mayor of Madison. Baldwin worked hard to get “member directed funding” into her district. League of Women Voters types sniff that that’s “pork”, but you know what? Wisconsin sends a ton of money to the feds and we get a lot less than a ton in return. Anything we can do to make sure that a little bit more of our tax money finds its way back here is a good thing in my book. The rebuilding of East Washington Ave. and of State St. were just two of the big projects that got done with less strain on local property taxpayers thanks to Baldwin. As Senator she’s done that for the whole state. It’s no accident that her announcement tour is being called “delivering for Wisconsin.”

Picks her spots. Like former Sen. Russ Feingold, Baldwin has honed the skill of the high-profile counter-intuitive position. For Feingold, among a few other things, it was supporting Pres. George W. Bush’s nomination of John Ashcroft for Attorney General. For Baldwin, it has been her support for delisting the grey wolf. That plays well in the northern part of the state, but more importantly it takes the edge off. Moderate voters see that and, even if they don’t care much about wolves one way or the other, they conclude that maybe she’s not ideologically pure.

Had it been Baldwin running against Ron Johnson last year I have no doubt she would have won. In fact, I don’t think it would have been close. As it was, Mandela Barnes was too easily cast as a hard-left ideologue. You can bet that the Republicans will try to do that to Baldwin. It’s not likely to work because she doesn’t cooperate with their narrative.

Democrats would do well to study how Tammy does it and then do what she does.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

3 thoughts on “Baldwin’s Got the Blue Print

  1. I agree that Sen. Baldwin will probably win again next year but there is one Wisconsin Republican that, I think, could beat her. Rep. Mike Gallagher from Green Bay could steal some of her votes from the middle. He’s young, personable, articulate, accomplished, understated and a military veteran. He has kept himself at arm’s length from Trump and doesn’t throw partisan bombs but basically votes with the GOP every time. He can keep his job in the House for as long as he wants it and I hope he stays there for many years.
    I’m also not so sure that ’24 will be a good year for Democrats, nationally. Joe Biden, who looks inevitable as the presidential candidate, will have no coattails and will probably be a drag on the party.
    Still, if anyone can do it, Tammy can.


    1. Good point about Biden. But I think the next election will likely be about the economy and abortion. If the economy is healthy and the Republicans continue to make themselves look extreme on abortion, the Dems will do well, regardless of how low Biden’s approval ratings might be.


  2. I think it’s also true that Tammy devotes a good chunk of time to dealing with issues affecting farmers and rural Wisconsinites, which somewhat inoculates her against charges that she is just a Madison elite liberal. She is a smart and savvy politician, and I’m proud she is our senator (would that I could say the same about her colleague, who is just an embarrassment).


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