Baldwin Victory Highlights Broader Challenge in D.C.

Published Nov 7, 2012.


Tammy Baldwin ran a great race - a "flawless race," in the opinion of her fellow Democrat, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. We agree. Her race was brilliant strategically, and she came off as smart and likable and as someone who seems to care deeply about the people she represents. As a member of Congress, Baldwin has had a well-deserved reputation for constituent service - one of the underappreciated jobs of senators.

Now, she turns to the matter of representing Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate - all of Wisconsin. Her voting record puts her among the most liberal members of Congress, something that played well with her Madison constituency. But this highly partisan record makes us wonder whether she can as easily represent the interests of citizens in places such as Waukesha County, the Fox Valley or the North Woods.

Baldwin should not shape-shift - she should not take the Romney cure. She should stand by her principles. But she also should show that she can work with conservatives, who still make up a sizable minority in the Senate and still make up a sizable chunk of the Wisconsin electorate (35%, according to exit polls). On statewide issues, federal judgeships being one of them, she has to show that she can work with the now senior senator from Wisconsin - the tea party Republican Ron Johnson of Oshkosh.

Republicans, of course, need to do the same.

But her election coming hard on the heels of Johnson's ascension highlights a larger national concern.

Johnson, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, wants to downsize government and cut taxes. Baldwin once favored a single-payer health care model, and her record suggests she might be predisposed to more spending. Their "debate" is a microcosm of the much larger national debate that is about to be joined over the fiscal cliff coming at the end of this year when the Bush tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts take effect - and the fiscal problems that will likely remain even if Congress avoids the precipice.

"If the country is on an unsustainable fiscal path, which it is, and if continued partisan bickering will not solve this problem, which it won't, and if divided government has been re-elected, which it has, then the only choices are calamity or compromise," Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group in Washington, D.C., wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

"Solutions will be impossible if both parties retreat to their partisan corners and stubbornly insist that compromise is only something for the other side to do and that any calamity is only the other side's fault. It's long past time to stop such unrealistic nonsense."

We agree, which is why we were glad to see Wednesday that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Republicans are "willing to accept new revenue" as part of a package of solutions to deal with soaring deficits. While it's unclear whether he means higher taxes or simply more revenue generated by economic growth, this might be a start.

At a victory rally Tuesday night, Baldwin said, "I know many people listening tonight didn't vote for me, but I will fight for you and move our state forward."

Those are great sentiments. To make it real, Baldwin will have to show she can stand up for what she believes - and still represent all of Wisconsin while also doing the important work of the country.

We wish her well.