WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is jumping into the race for U.S. Senate, running for the seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl.
In an email and video message sent out to supporters Tuesday morning, Baldwin cited Wall Street reform, withdrawal from Afghanistan and economic justice for the middle class as issues that she will focus on during her campaign.
"I’ve decided to run for the U.S. Senate because I believe Wisconsin families need a senator who will work hard to deliver results for the middle class -- a leader with the courage to do what's right, no matter how tough the odds or how powerful the special interests we have to fight," she said in her message.
"I can’t wait to take my fight to the Senate: a fight to grow our economy, protect seniors, force Wall Street to clean up its act, and bring our troops home from Afghanistan. And I can't wait to see you on the trail as we bring our campaign to every corner of Wisconsin."
Baldwin is the only openly gay woman in Congress. If she wins her race in 2012, she will become the first openly gay person to serve in the U.S. Senate.
"I know that, in this campaign, we’ll be up against some powerful special interests. But I've beaten the odds before. All my life, the naysayers have told me that I can't win because I'm a progressive ... because I'm a woman ... even because I'm a lesbian. And I've proven them wrong because I've had rock-solid supporters like you standing with me," she said.
According to a poll released last week by the Democratic-allied firm Public Policy Polling, Baldwin is likely to be the strongest Democratic candidate in the field. On the Republican side, former governor Tommy Thompson, state Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere) and former state senator Ted Kanavas are all considering running.
Last week, former Wisconsin Rep. Mark Neumann announced he would be running to secure the GOP nomination. During his career, Neumann has made several controversial remarks about gays, once saying, "If I was elected God for a day, homosexuality wouldn't be permitted, but nobody’s electing me God."
Former Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat, was also contemplating running for Kohl's seat, but in mid-August he announced he would be staying away from political office, at least temporarily, in order to focus on teaching and his newly formed political action committee.
In 2010, Baldwin tied as the most liberal member of Congress, according to rankings by National Journal.
She was vocal during the collective bargaining fight between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and labor unions, and she called on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the Wisconsin Supreme Court race when there were vote discrepancies in one of the counties.
While running for Senate, Feingold consistently shunned spending from outside groups. Baldwin -- who is expected to get strong national support from Democratic, women's and LGBT organizations -- did not do the same during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning, but stressed that she would fight for more transparency in political contributions.
"I am going to run a race based on the rules of the road today and will be a champion for campaign finance reform," she said.
On Tuesday morning, Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's List -- which has supported Baldwin in the past -- put out a statement praising her candidacy.
"Tammy Baldwin is a dedicated and hardworking leader, a fighter on behalf of her constituents and an EMILY's List hero," said Schriock. "In office she has tirelessly advocated for affordable access to women's health care and equal rights for all Americans. Tammy has earned a strong economic record in the House -- standing for jobs and small business against corporate lobbying interests and unfair trade deals. She has consistently spoken out against the GOP war on women and we need her strong voice in the Senate. We're thrilled she’s thrown her hat in the ring and are excited that this race is starting."
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also put out a statement, saying, "Tammy Baldwin's candidacy for the U.S. Senate is monumental for both the state of Wisconsin and the country's LGBT community. Tammy has proven herself as an effective legislator over the course of her 13 years in Congress and this campaign will be a top priority for the Human Rights Campaign."
This story has been updated with additional comment from Baldwin and a statement from the Human Rights Campaign.