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ELECTION NIGHT (copy)

“Make no mistake, I am proud to be a Wisconsin progressive,” re-elected Sen. Tammy Baldwin told some 300 supporters in November 2018. (PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER)

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin would be a fine candidate for president. It’s not just that she’s a Wisconsinite. It’s that she’s a Wisconsin progressive with a record of local, state and national service who has never lost an election in an essential battleground state for her Democratic Party.

Unfortunately, Baldwin is just about the only Democrat who isn’t bidding for the party’s 2020 nomination.

That does not, however, mean that Democrats should neglect Wisconsin's junior senator as a national prospect.

Baldwin would be an outstanding nominee for vice president.

Consider the record: A lawyer who served with distinction in municipal and county government before being elected as a state legislator, she served seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before her election to the U.S. Senate. A barrier-breaking political figure, she has repeatedly made history as the first woman and the first member of the LGBTQ community to win major races in the state. And she has served across the decades as a progressive champion of economic, social and racial justice, peace, preservation of the planet and democracy.

Baldwin is, as well, a masterful political strategist who campaigns with an eye toward renewing the coalitions that once made Democrats the dominant party in the Great Lakes states. She goes deep on manufacturing policy and farm concerns, on urban and rural issues, on bold reform (as a longtime backer of single-payer “Medicare for All” health care) and on the precise fixes that can be enacted even in a time of divided government — frequently crossing partisan and ideological lines to forge bipartisan coalitions to accomplish things like securing funding for rural broadband and protecting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

It is rare for anyone to run for vice president, and Baldwin won’t actively campaign for the position. But Democrats, particularly progressive Democrats who are serious about winning in 2020, would be wise to talk her up as a running mate for whoever is nominated.

Baldwin would bring to a national ticket unique skills when it comes to upending the right and beating back negative campaigns. She has not been handed her electoral victories, she has earned them. That’s what she did in 2012, when she beat an iconic figure in Wisconsin politics, former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, by more than 150,000 votes and carried half the state’s counties. Targeted by national Republicans and billionaire conservative campaign donors for defeat in 2018, Baldwin ran a smart, multifaceted media and grassroots campaign that secured 55 percent of the vote. Baldwin’s 2018 campaign increased turnout in Milwaukee and other urban centers while flipping 17 counties that backed Donald Trump in 2016. Yes, 17 counties. "I think the campaign we ran can serve as a blueprint for Wisconsin campaigns to come," Baldwin said as she reviewed maps that showed her leading a Democratic ticket that won every statewide race.

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If Democrats are smart, they will recognize that Baldwin’s blueprint for winning Wisconsin in 2018 is also a blueprint for winning the country in 2020.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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