Baldwin has emerged as a viable candidate in part because she brings a lot to the political table. She is a solid progressive, ranking as the fourth-most liberal member of the Senate. Baldwin also had strong liberal records during her seven terms in the House and during her tenure in the Wisconsin State Assembly. She nonetheless combines this with a 60 percent rating from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2018 (although her lifetime score is significantly lower), suggesting she isn’t as unacceptable to business as others, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). That balance — progressive but reasonable — probably comes pretty close to how Biden views himself.
She also brings a strong electoral record from her home state, a key fact for a party looking to win back the Midwest. Baldwin defeated former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson in 2012 by a surprisingly strong six points, and won reelection against a tough Republican opponent, state Sen. Leah Vukmir, by an even larger 11 points in 2018. She also did well in the blue-collar rural regions Democrats particularly want to regain, flipping 17 counties that President Trump won in 2016. That’s an enviable accomplishment that none of her major competitors can boast.
Baldwin’s selection would also make history of its own. She is openly lesbian and became the first LGBTQ member from Wisconsin in the House, and from any state in the Senate. LGBTQ voters compose a substantial portion of Democrats, ranging from a high of 14 percent in Maine to a low of 7 percent in three Southern states, according to the primary exit polls. LGBTQ voters also are a significant force in the broader electorate, composing 5 percent of the total vote in 2016.
Black leaders should also be happy with Baldwin’s positions on racism and police reform. She is one of the authors of the Democrats’ police reform bill, and she was an early and vocal critic of the Minneapolis police’s behavior in the Floyd case. She wrote in June that the United States harbors systemic racism throughout society, and called for significant changes to achieve racial justice. They might prefer someone from their own racial background, but black leaders will know they have an ally in Baldwin.
Democrats would also surely relish the chance to see her debate Vice President Pence. Pence is a devout evangelical Christian and staunch social conservative. The prospect of seeing an LGBTQ woman debate Pence will excite Democrats, and could make the vice presidential debate a must-see event for swing voters, too. Baldwin’s presence on the ticket also highlights social issues and control of the Supreme Court in a way no other potential selection could. Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttegieg rocketed to national attention with his attacks on Pence; Baldwin’s presence on the ticket would keep that contrast front and center throughout the fall.
Baldwin has other advantages others might not: her experience and temperament. Biden has often spoken about needing someone with whom he can feel personally comfortable in the number two slot. Baldwin, like Biden, has held political office nearly all of her adult life, winning her first election at the age of 24. She also prefers the background to the spotlight, working to forge legislation rather than jump in front of the cameras. The fact that she wouldn’t upstage Biden — and doesn’t have the temperament to try — could be a big selling point for the former vice president.
Her slight public stature also reassures those who want to succeed Biden. Baldwin is only 58, so she could easily run after Biden, but she wouldn’t come into the position with the national profile that someone such as Warren or Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) would. Each of the past five Democratic vice presidents succeeded in subsequent efforts to win the party’s presidential nomination, but none save Lyndon B. Johnson (who became president after John F. Kennedy’s assassination) were so strong that they foreclosed a serious challenge.
The odds still favor Biden selecting a black woman for his veep. But if he doesn’t, don’t be shocked if it’s Wisconsin’s own senator who takes the stage at the Milwaukee convention to accept her groundbreaking nomination.