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Chuck Wolfe Headshot

Will DC's Old Boy Network Block First Openly Gay U.S. Senator?

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Early money is often a strong predictor of success in electoral politics. That's why the impressive second quarter fundraising numbers just released by Rep. Tammy Baldwin give many people hope that she will become America's first openly LGBT senator next year. With more than $500,000 raised in Q2 -- most of it in June alone -- and an impressive $1.14 million in the bank, Baldwin has proven she can raise the money necessary to win the open Wisconsin Senate seat long held by her friend, Sen. Herb Kohl, who announced his retirement last May.

The LGBT community, women's groups and progressive allies across Wisconsin and America will have Baldwin's back in this fight, but some political elites in Washington are casting about for an alternative, unconvinced an out lesbian can win. They're wrong to wonder, and it's time we called out that kind of political homophobia.

Baldwin made history in 1998 as the first openly LGBT candidate to win election to Congress as a non-incumbent, and that honesty has been the hallmark of her career in the House. She's earned her reputation as a fighter for Wisconsin's working families, for expanded access to health care and fairness for America's farmers, but she has also never failed to speak up and speak out for women and LGBT Americans -- not only as an ally, but as an authentic voice for whom the dream of full equality is personal.

Most politicians try to avoid tough fights, but whether the issue was jobs, health care, LGBT equality or protecting a woman's right to choose, Baldwin has stood up and asked her House colleagues to do the same, even when some begged their leadership to avoid tough votes before a reelection campaign. "They should choose another profession," Baldwin told Roll Call last year, when it was reported some Democrats feared voting on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.

That brand of boldness and honesty sometimes scares the professional political class -- people whose jobs often drive them to embrace a kind of safe, bland candidate whose political positions are poll-tested and certified controversy-free. These weathervane politicians aren't leaders -- they'll point in any direction the wind blows.

Old boy network politics hasn't changed much in Washington, a town famous for trading in secrets and rumors. So when I hear that some straight white males in the Democratic Party are calling around to recruit a Wisconsin candidate that looks a little more like them, it's clear they're still willing to cast aside even compelling leaders like Baldwin -- all because they don't match up with some calcified version of the perfect candidate. If the old boy network gets its way, they'll steer resources toward a candidate who won't offend, but who'll be far less likely to fight.

Baldwin's deep experience, strong commitment and bold vision qualify her to represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate. Her obvious fundraising prowess and demonstrated nationwide support over the past month are an unmistakable signal to the professional political class that she'll fight harder than most to win this race and make history as the first woman from Wisconsin, and the first openly LGBT American, to serve in the Senate.

It's time our Senate looked more like America; it needs more dedicated public servants like Tammy Baldwin, whose honesty, drive and passion are the same qualities that distinguish us as Americans and shape our national character. Her unique life experiences and unprecedented perspective will enrich the great debates of our time.

Now the old boys must step aside, take their thumbs off the scale, and let Democracy work for all Americans.