MILWAUKEE - Amidst the presidential race in this battleground state is a history-making bid for Senate. If elected, Democrat Tammy Baldwin will become the first openly gay senator in U.S. history, and the first woman senator from the Badger State.
Congresswoman Baldwin is locked in a tight race with a former governor and Bush cabinet official, Tommy Thompson. The winner will fill the seat of retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, a Democrat.
Wisconsin is one of the closest watched Senate races in the country as the battle for control of the body rages.
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell famously said the top GOP priority was to make President Barack Obama a one-term president. The Republicans are betting that political strategy of obstructionism would also result in their taking control of the Senate.
But, Baldwin and four other Democratic women candidates in Massachusetts, North Dakota, Nevada and Hawaii stand in the GOP's way.
As do six Democratic women incumbents seeking reelection: Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Dianne Feinstein of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
In the crucial presidential election, where the women's vote is being tightly contested, it's notable the number of Democratic women senatorial candidates. If all win, it would not only ensure a Democratic majority, but also result in the highest number of women in the Senate ever. (Although, it still would be nowhere near 50 or half of the body.)
Baldwin has a history of breaking barriers. She became the first woman to serve in Congress from Wisconsin. Considered to be one of the most progressive voices in Congress, Baldwin was one of the first elected officials to lead the mass demonstrations on collective bargaining rights in Madison last year.
Baldwin was a founder of the bipartisan congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, which aims to repeal discriminatory laws and to pass legislation that extends equal rights for all. She helped lead the fight to expand the definition of hate crimes to include those based on sexual orientation.
Once Baldwin decided to run for Senate, she never hesitated to challenge the tea party and its reactionary program, even though they had just won the governorship and statehouse in 2010.
That fighting spirit has won the enthusiastic backing of an electoral coalition that includes labor unions, people of color, immigrants, women, students and the LGBT community.
"We're looking at having a more pro-worker Democratic caucus," said AFL-CIO political director Michael Podhorzer. "Races such as Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown are really key, both for Democrats retaining the Senate majority and for working people to have really strong advocates when the next Congress commences."
Republican Thompson won a bitterly divided GOP primary against a tea party candidate, a multi-millionaire like Thompson. Thompson, though, stands solidly with the tea party program and is a close ally of Gov. Scott Walker and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
Thompson, like Ryan, said he would do away with Medicare and Medicaid. At a public campaign event, he boasted that he had "finished" one state entitlement program as governor, so who better to come up with a scheme "to do away with Medicaid and Medicare?"
At the same meeting Thompson proudly described himself as "way over on the right, but I'm also an individual that can get things done," reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Thompson is seen as an out of touch multi-millionaire, who recently had a "John McCain moment" when he couldn't recall how many homes he had. (The answer is four.)
As if this wasn't bad enough, campaign advisors and his son have made racist and anti-gay remarks.
Thompson's son Jason has been caught on tape twice making racist "birther" references toward President Obama. One was at a Republican event with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus in Kenosha, Wis. He said "we have the opportunity to send President Obama back to Chicago - or Kenya." A woman in attendance then chimed in "we are taking donations for that Kenya trip."
His father tried to downplay the incident, but clearly the remarks reflect the pervasive ugly side of Republican politics.
Many Wisconsinites see electing Baldwin as an important and meaningful way to repudiate the politics of hate and corporate greed.
"Whether fighting tirelessly to create more jobs and more opportunity for the middle class, or defending worker rights against partisan assaults from the radical right, Wisconsin's working men and women can trust Tammy Baldwin to stand up for us in the U.S. Senate," said Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt.
"We are proud to endorse Tammy because we know she will be a voice for the people in Washington, not the corporate elite."
Photo: Tammy Baldwin visits family-owned business Penzeys Spices in Wauwatosa, Wis., Oct. 9. (2012 campaign/FB)