At press time, Ms. Baldwin was leading Republican Tommy Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor, 51 to 47 percent with 79 percent of districts reporting. Baldwin will replace former Democratic Senator Herb Kohl, who is retiring after five terms.
“Tonight we have won a huge victory for Wisconsin’s middle class,” Baldwin declared to supporters in Madison in her victory speech. “The people's voice was heard tonight, Wisconsin, and come January, your voice will be heard in the United States Senate.... I will be a senator for all Wisconsin.”
Baldwin was considered a lock for the seat until last month when a surge by Mr. Thompson in the polls put both candidates in a dead heat. The amount of outside money that flowed into the state was unprecedented; according the Federal Election Commission, independent groups on both sides of the aisle spent a total of $23.2 million on the race. By comparison, in the 2010 election between newcomer Ron Johnson and US Sen. Russ Feingold, independent groups spent just $3 million.
As a Republican who served four terms as governor between 1987 and 2001 until appointed Health and Human Services secretary under President George W. Bush, Thompson was generally well liked in his state for his moderate views and ability to work with both parties. But in the course of the campaign Thompson took several hard right positions, and Baldwin portrayed him as pandering to the hard right faction of the national Republican Party and someone who could not be trusted to put the state first.
Thompson portrayed Baldwin as too liberal and extreme.
Baldwin’s victory also makes her the first openly gay member of the Senate. While her sexuality never became a factor in the race, she received donations from liberal national groups like MoveOn.org and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
“I didn’t run to make history. I ran to make a difference,” Baldwin said in a tweet after her Madison speech.
Baldwin’s congressional seat will be filled by state Rep. Mark Pocan (D), who is also openly gay.
Republicans holding state office fared better in Wisconsin as the party will regain control of the state Senate, giving it majority control of both the legislature and executive office. Gov. Scott Walker (R) released a statement saying, “the election of new majorities to the state legislature is good news for the hard working taxpayers.”