Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Is Baldwin Vulnerable? Or Unbeatable?

The pundits disagree. And who is the likely Republican opponent?

By - May 9th, 2023 05:42 pm
Senator Tammy Baldwin speaking at Old Main groundbreaking on September 20th, 2019. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Senator Tammy Baldwin speaking at Old Main groundbreaking on September 20th, 2019. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

According to The Hill, the Capitol insider publication, Wisconsin’s U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin is “one of the eight most vulnerable Senate Democrats in 2024.”

Wisconsin, the publication warned, “remains a crucial battleground state with a propensity to swing wildly from one election to another.” I guess we’re a little wacky here in Wiscoland.

CNN rated the seat number six on its list of the 10 senate seats “most likely to flip,” cautioning the competitiveness of Wisconsin “shouldn’t be underestimated.”

By contrast, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote a column, entitled “Tammy Baldwin has picked the lock on split-ticker voters,” touting her electability. “Democrats agonizing over how to appeal to rural and White working-class voters might want to talk to” Baldwin, Rubin declared. “One of the most progressive members in the Senate, she nevertheless has figured out how to turn her narrowly divided state into a place where, with the right message, Democrats can notch a big win.”

Rubin noted that Baldwin won by 10 percentage points in 2018 (it was actually 10,8%), in the same election where Democrats Tony Evers and Josh Kaul won by just one percentage point in the races for governor and attorney general.

So who’s right? Is Baldwin a vulnerable candidate likely to face a nail bitter election or a canny pro you can expect to waltz to victory?

Rubin could have also pointed to Baldwin’s first win for U.S. Senator in 2012, where Baldwin defeated Tommy Thompson, one of the most popular Wisconsin politicians of the last half century, by 5.6%. But those in the “vulnerable” camp could point to Baldwin’s relatively weak approval rating as measured in Marquette Law School polls. She has generally had a net favorable rating from survey respondents, but only by a few percentage points. And in the last two polls, both in October 2022, she slipped to zero, as MU pollster Charles Franklin noted, with exactly half of those of those with an opinion approving of her and half disapproving.

Still, Republican Ron Johnson was underwater with a net negative approval rating prior to the 2022 election and ultimately won the race.

Among Democratic consultants, Baldwin is known for running strong campaigns. Her race against Thompson attacked the popular governor turned lobbyist as a fat cat who’s “not for you anymore,” as the ad’s memorable tagline declared.

Rubin followed Baldwin campaigning in Wisconsin’s dairy country and at a manufacturing company, winning over Republicans with her support for infrastructure (“Potholes aren’t red or blue,” she declared) and for Made-in-America policies, a stand where she agreed with Donald Trump during his term as president.

“She’s proven a strong candidate,” Franklin told Urban Milwaukee. “Beating Thompson in 2012 was quite an achievement and while she faced a weak opponent in 2018 she expanded her vote in important areas with many voters, such as the Fox Valley. The strength of the GOP challenger will matter of course.”

But Republicans seem divided on who that candidate might be. The obvious choice would seem to be 8th District Congressman Mike Gallagher, a military veteran and Princeton grad with a PhD in International Relations from Georgetown who has won national attention for his leadership of a congressional committee looking at strategic competition with China. Young, articulate and good looking, Gallagher offers a fresh face compared to Baldwin, now 64, who has been a Wisconsin politician for more than 35 years, including 24 in the U.S. Congress. He also has a base in the Fox Valley, a crucial area for Republicans hoping to win the state.

But Gallagher has had the nerve to occasionally disagree with Trump. Notably he condemned the January 6 insurrection and attempts to overturn the 2020 election. He would later vote against the second impeachment of Trump, but that wasn’t enough to satisfy the Trumpists in Wisconsin’s Republican Party.

“Gallagher has a concern… about running statewide and having, you know, that segment of the Republican Party that has a bunch of staunch Trump fans sour on him,” as WISN conservative talk radio host  Jay Weber noted on the air in April.

“Gallagher is not well liked by the Trumpists,” noted longtime Republican James Wigderson, former editor of Right Wisconsin, in an email to Urban Milwaukee.

All signs suggest Republicans are leaning toward 7th District Congressman Tom Tiffany. Thompson-era Republican Bill McCoshen has pushed Tiffany on Twitter, and Wisconsin Right Now did a column saluting the grassroots appeal of Tiffany.

Tiffany has registered two domain names to run for the U.S. Senate and told reporter Lawrence Andrea he is considering running.

Tiffany has a 97% lifetime rating from the CPAC Foundation, making him the most conservative member of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation, surpassing even uber-conservative Glenn Grothman. Whereas Gallagher might have room to argue he is more moderate than Baldwin, Tiffany is one of the most extreme conservatives in the nation. He also voted against certifying the 2020 election of Joe Biden.

As Arik Wolk, a rapid response director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin put it, “Tom Tiffany is an election-denying, anti-abortion extremist who wants to take away our health care, our Medicare and our Social Security.”

All of which has Baldwin currently looking a good deal less vulnerable than some of those rankings suggest. “It was telling that [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell recently mentioned four Senate races he is focused on,” Franklin noted, “and did not include Wisconsin on the list.”

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

One thought on “Murphy’s Law: Is Baldwin Vulnerable? Or Unbeatable?”

  1. ZeeManMke says:

    Until the Republicans stop putting up crackpots and has-beens
    Baldwin will remain in office. Who has she beaten?

    In 2012 she beat has-been Tommy Thompson. Far from being formidable, by 2012 he had been out of Wisconsin politics for 11 years. People did see him raking in cash in DC by attacking benefits for poor people for Bush. After 16 years as governor, basically, a proto-Scott Walker. Iron fist with a glove, people were sick of him. 11 years later he shows up and he was toast long before election day.

    In 2018 she beat Leah Vukmir. A state senator often mistaken for a fire-breathing dragon. She accomplished next to nothing in the legislature but was well know for being angry and upsetting other people.

    Basically, she beat two nobodies. Her love of massive defense budgets, hatred of wolves, and accomplishing nothing of significance for Wisconsin make her vulnerable – but only to a decent candidate and the Republicans have not had a senate candidate that did not have huge problems since the 1960s. Since 1963 – 60 years – Wisconsin has had only two Republican Senators. Kasten and RoJo the Clown. One drank too much, the other earned his brain damage the good old-fashioned way – he earned it!

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