Baldwin reflects on victory
MADISON Newly-elected Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin said Wednesday she believes that she and tea party Republican Sen. Ron Johnson can find common ground to help the state despite being on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Baldwin told The Associated Press during an interview that she was confident she and Johnson could work together to address local and national problems, including the looming debt crisis and federal deficit.
"One aspect of all people who seek public service is that they care deeply about their state," said Baldwin, a liberal seven-term congresswoman from Madison. "There are some things we can find common ground."
Baldwin said Wisconsin voters sent a message that they are tired of gridlock in Washington by electing her and President Barack Obama.
"I know it's a message that I take to heart, that I conveyed during the course of my campaign," she said. "I think any elected official who's aware of that message should take that to heart."
Baldwin, 50, defeated Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson in Tuesday's election for the open Senate seat, making her the state's first female senator and the first openly gay candidate elected to the Senate.
Johnson, who ousted Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold to win the state's other Senate seat two years ago, said he spoke with Baldwin on the phone Wednesday and congratulated her on the win. He told the AP he looked forward to meeting with her in person soon to discuss the issues facing the country.
"Hopefully I can sit down and lay out for her my best understanding of the federal budget because they're simply the facts," he said. "Hopefully she'll agree with what the facts are and work toward common sense solutions."
Johnson was elected in the Republican wave of 2010 in his first run for public office, and he actively campaigned alongside Thompson. Johnson agreed that he and Baldwin were polar opposites politically, but he hoped they could work together.
"The first thing I would start with is let's find what we can agree on," Johnson said.
During her 14 years in the U.S. House, Baldwin frequently was ranked among the chamber's most liberal members. But she noted that she and Johnson worked together on getting federal funding for a new bridge connecting western Wisconsin and Minnesota and the gray wolf removed from the endangered species list.
Her victory and Obama's re-election were major wins for Wisconsin Democrats after two years of losses that started with Johnson defeating Feingold and Republican Gov. Scott Walker winning election. It was capped by Walker surviving a recall attempt just five months ago.
Johnson attributed Obama's win on the heels of those Republican gains in Wisconsin to an uninformed electorate who voted in this election but not in the Walker recall.
"If you aren't properly informed, if you don't understand the problems facing this nation, you are that much more prone to falling prey to demagoguing solutions. And the problem with demagoguing solutions is they don't work," Johnson said. "I am concerned about people who don't fully understand the very ugly math we are facing in this country."
Baldwin disagreed with his characterization of the electorate.
"My sense the day after an election, what we saw was very enthusiastic involvement in the race," she said. "People wanted their voices to be heard. I actually think they were well-informed."
A majority of Wisconsin voters said the economy was the most important issue facing the country, with seven out of 10 saying the economy was in "not-so-good" or poor condition, according to exit poll interviews conducted by the AP. But a majority also blamed former President George W. Bush, not Obama, for the current conditions.
"In my election, my focus has been on helping move our economy forward, helping to create good-paying private sector jobs and giving the middle class families in this state a fair shot," Baldwin said. "My hope is that regardless of whether the other U.S. senator is a Republican or a Democrat we would share those same values."