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Tammy Baldwin says she isn't running for president, but her re-election is a blueprint for others
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Tammy Baldwin says she isn't running for president, but her re-election is a blueprint for others

Tammy Baldwin

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, of Madison, celebrates her 2018 win at an election-night party at Monona Terrace.

Some want her to join the stampede of Democrats seeking the nod to face GOP President Donald Trump in 2020, but U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says she isn’t interested.

Instead, Baldwin, D-Madison, says her resounding re-election victory last fall is a blueprint for other Democrats to win the pivotal swing state of Wisconsin in the 2020 presidential race.

In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Baldwin did not rule out being her party’s vice presidential nominee, saying “I haven’t given it much thought.”

Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential primary has already started to bring the increasingly sprawling field of Democratic candidates to the state ahead of next April. Declared candidate U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, visited Eau Claire on Saturday, and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who has not declared his candidacy but is considered a top prospect, visited Madison and Milwaukee on Friday.

Baldwin said she doesn’t anticipate endorsing a Democratic contender before next April’s primary.

But Baldwin said her nearly 11-point win in Wisconsin’s 2018 U.S. Senate election shows how to navigate the politics of a closely divided state likely to again be among a few that determine the next president.

“I do believe that the pathway to the presidency runs right through Wisconsin,” Baldwin said. “My campaign showed how you win in Wisconsin.

“Just sharing the best wisdom I can about how the Democratic nominee can win Wisconsin and the presidency — that is how I see my role going into the primary and the general election in 2020.”

Baldwin added that her immediate political focus is on Milwaukee’s bid to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention, and she thinks Milwaukee has a good chance to land it.

She said she also expects to keep tabs on the race for who succeeds Martha Laning to lead the Democratic Party of Wisconsin heading into 2020.

Baldwin has not made the early public moves expected of a serious presidential contender. Meanwhile, among other Democratic Midwestern senators, Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, appears poised to run, along with Klobuchar.

Other Democratic senators who are running or have formed exploratory committees are Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

‘I am not running’

In the State Journal interview, Baldwin tamped down suggestions that she should run, saying, “I am not running for president.”

“I was very flattered by the New York Magazine article,” Baldwin chuckled, referring to a recent article calling her “the Democratic Party’s most electable candidate” against Trump. “I related to that line that said I apparently don’t have the personality disorder required to run for president.”

Some prodding Baldwin to consider a White House bid have noted her showing at the polls in 2018.

Baldwin entered her re-election campaign as at least a slight favorite given Trump’s unpopularity and Wisconsin’s history of voting for the party out of power in the White House.

But early in the race, few anticipated the margin by which she would defeat Republican nominee Leah Vukmir, a former state senator from Brookfield. That also came after Baldwin weathered millions of dollars worth of attack ads early in the cycle from outside campaign groups.

Baldwin said her approach “starts by listening to people, listening to what their challenges are.” She said it’s also about focusing on issues that matter most — including health care, infrastructure upgrades, Wisconsin’s manufacturing and agricultural economy, and the opioid epidemic — and demonstrating a willingness to stand up to “powerful interests” such as the pharmaceutical industry.

“Folks in Wisconsin watch these powerful interests seemingly write their own rules,” Baldwin said. “So in terms of advising the pathway to win Wisconsin, it’s not only being willing to focus on the issues that matter most to Wisconsinites, but also being willing to stand up to the obstacles to enacting solutions.”

Baldwin’s 2018 campaign put health care at the fore, touting her support for protections for people with pre-existing health conditions and hammering Vukmir for supporting a repeal of the federal health care law that established those protections. Baldwin also acknowledged — but did not emphasize — her support for a more ambitious Medicare-for-all single-payer approach to universal health coverage.

Last week, Baldwin introduced a bill to create an option for people ages 50-64 to buy into Medicare for health coverage. She declined to say in the interview if she believes presidential candidates must sign on to that or a similar plan as an intermediate step to the single-payer coverage she and many other Democrats favor.

But Baldwin predicted the glut of Democratic candidates will yield “a real debate on how we advance the cause of health care for all.”

‘Good chance’ for Milwaukee to host

Baldwin said she’s bullish on Milwaukee’s 2020 DNC bid. The city is one of three finalists to host the convention — the others are Houston and Miami Beach — and the Democratic National Committee is expected to announce the host city this month.

Baldwin is on a host committee working on Milwaukee’s bid, which could bring 50,000 visitors and an economic impact in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Milwaukee has a good chance to be named the host city because it was so clear that the path to winning the presidency and to Democratic success nationally runs right through Wisconsin,” Baldwin said.

Another key element of Democrats’ campaign efforts in 2020 is who leads the state party. Laning recently announced she will not seek a third term to lead the Democratic Party of Wisconsin at its state convention in June. Former congressional candidate and social media star Randy Bryce, party vice chairman and state Rep. David Bowen, and former gubernatorial candidate and former state Rep. Kelda Roys are among those who have signaled interest.

Baldwin praised Laning in the interview and said it’s critical to build on the success Wisconsin Democrats had in 2018.

“As we head into the 2020 election cycle, I want to make sure that we have a party chair who’s going to hit the ground running,” Baldwin said.

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