If Democrat Tammy Baldwin wins the election for the Senate, she would become the first openly gay United States senator in history. But you wouldn’t know it from her deadlocked race against Republican Tommy Thompson.
She doesn’t talks about it unless asked, which hardly ever happens. Thompson’s campaign has steered clear, with the exception of an aide’s tweet that landed him in hot water. There’ve been no TV ads or mailings — positive or negative — and the issue hasn’t surfaced in either of the first two debates.
The collective yawn over Baldwin’s sexual orientation raises the notion of whether gay candidates have crossed a threshold of mainstream acceptance that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. It was only in 2006, after all, that Wisconsinites overwhelmingly voted to enshrine a gay marriage ban in the state constitution.
A Public Policy Polling survey taken in August found that 64 percent of Wisconsin voters were open to supporting a gay candidate for office, while 23 percent said they were not.
Still, some gay advocates are privately skittish that Baldwin’s poll numbers might be inflated slightly by people who won’t vote for her because of her sexual orientation but tell a pollster differently because they don’t want to sound homophobic. The worry about a variation of the so-called Bradley effect, named after Tom Bradley, the African American former Los Angeles mayor who lost his 1982 bid for California governor after exit polling indicated he had won.
As a Senate contender, Baldwin is the most high-profile of nine openly gay candidates running as major-party nominees for Congress this year.
Inside the tight-knit national gay donor community, her bid is an utmost priority and source of tremendous pride. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund alone has helped raise and bundle more than $1.5 million for Baldwin’s campaign, according to a source close to the group.
Yet Baldwin isn’t branding herself as someone on the cusp of making history. Her stump speech and ad campaign focus relentlessly on jobs, the economy and her opponent.