For those who have forgotten, Herb Kohl…
Kohl. Herb Kohl. The senior Senator from Wisconsin? Yes, Wisconsin has two Senators. I know, I know: you’d never realize it from the news or anything, but they actually had more than one. It’s a constitutional requirement, in fact.
…at any rate, Kohl is retiring in ’12 (or at least, won’t be showing up for work anymore), which means that the seat he occupies is of interest for the first time in decades. Russ Feingold was assumed to be the front-runner for it, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that Feingold losing to Ron Johnson has snapped the former’s political will like a rotten branch, so there’s an opportunity for the ambitious. It’s sort of what like what happens when a tree falls in a dense forest; the sudden influx of sunlight can cause rapid growth among the stunted saplings that had hitherto been denied the res0urces needed to thrive*. One such sapling is Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who is apparently on the cusp of running.
Now this is the part where I am supposed to dance around Rep. Baldwin’s major problem with winning stateside in Wisconsin – she’s a liberal lesbian from Madison – because I’m supposed to be afraid that the Online Left is going to freak out that I’m pointing out that Baldwin is a liberal lesbian from Madison. Certainly (as Ann Althouse points out) Baldwin will be playing that card herself, and at every opportunity – not to mention, every excuse (or none). Fortunately, I am indifferent: first off, the Online Left routinely calls folks on the Right worse, so a garden-variety ‘homophobe’ accusation will be a bit of a refreshing change of pace. More to the point, Rep. Baldwin’s real problem is that she’s a liberal (lesbian) from Madison.
Seriously, that’s going to be a bigger problem for Rep. Baldwin than her sexual orientation. Even in Wisconsin – actually, particularly in Wisconsin, which is rapidly becoming one of the most politically interesting states in the country. I’m not saying that a progressive can’t win – obviously, Feingold managed the trick for almost two decades – but it’s instructive to note that Feingold started playing up the entire progressive thing after he was kicked out of office. Before that the message was all about how much of a maverick** Feingold was; he was supposedly independent and iconoclastic and all those other good things. If Baldwin wants to emulate Feingold, she’d be well-advised to play up the idea that What Wisconsin Needs Is A Balanced Senate Delegation: if she decides instead to make this election into a referendum on whether openly gay people can be Senators then Baldwin will lose the election after a bitter campaign.
And not because Wisconsin voters think that the answer is ‘no:’ it’ll be because they’ll be thinking that the answer is ‘not if it means having a Senator Tammy Baldwin.’ Because the problem with running on a ‘Vote for me or you’re a hater’ platform (which Baldwin seems somewhat eager to run on) is that it doesn’t actually work. When President Obama ran in 2008, his campaign was very careful to avoid openly (negatively) playing the race card: they instead presented his candidacy as a way of affirming essential American values, and subcontracted out the ‘the opposition is a bunch of racists’ to ostensibly third-party (and certainly deniable) groups. Rep. Baldwin doesn’t have that option***, and again, doesn’t seem to really want to exercise that option even if she has it.
Which is fine. A seat’s a seat.
PS: I know that it seems counter-intuitive to argue that, because Rep. Baldwin’s true negative in the race is her politics instead of her sexual orientation, she’s better off highlighting the former instead of the latter. I think that the paradox can be resolved by noting that the former can be turned into a strength with the right pitch (i.e., ‘Balance for Wisconsin’); while the latter is almost certainly going to be presented in a way to at least slightly annoy anybody who isn’t a Madison liberal (if that’s not redundant).
PPS: I agree with GayPatriot, by the way.
*This metaphor (I forget whom I’m stealing it from, by the way) should not be taken as suggesting that Herb Kohl is powerful or majestic: merely that he is sessile; effectively invisible as an individual; and made out of wood.
**Word used with malice aforethought.
***Then again, perhaps neither will Obama in 2012. But that’s another post.