Baldwin, the first openly LGBTQ senator, a member of the Progressive Caucus back when she served in the US House of Representatives, and a proud proponent of Medicare-for-all, stands as exhibit A for anyone looking to argue that the left can win in Midwestern swing states.
Of course, until relatively recently, Wisconsin was considered a solidly blue state rather than a swing. But Scott Walker changed that over the course of a series of statewide wins that, paired with solid Republican majorities in the state legislature, took on labor unions and advanced a surprisingly hard-right policy agenda. Donald Trump then followed that up with a narrow 2016 victory in a state that Hillary Clinton was famously so confident about carrying that she didn’t even campaign there.
Baldwin, obviously, did not take victory for granted. She’s hustled nonstop for years to make herself known throughout the state, to the point where she has almost no national profile despite a background and set of issue positions that, in theory, could make her a national progressive icon. Vukmir, meanwhile, was a pillar of the national GOP establishment, serving as a state legislator and on the board of directors of ALEC, the national coordinating organization for right-wing state policymakers.
Despite earlier wins by Walker and Trump and the close partisan divide in the state, Vukmir never really managed to make this a close one. She initially benefited from a huge flood of outside money as national conservatives were both enthusiastic about her and eager to defeat Baldwin. But she never managed to lead in public polling, and the GOP soon found itself defending vulnerable seats in Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, and even Texas, while eyeing easier pickup opportunities on a very friendly Senate map. Wisconsin wound up falling into the second or third tier.
Baldwin, meanwhile, continued to mostly fly below the national radar, though she did briefly pop up to introduce a proposal to restructure the American economy by giving workers seats on corporate boards.
Her campaign focused overwhelmingly on matters of local concern rather than hot-button issues, however, highlighting things like her fight against unfavorable regulation for dairy farmers and her work to combat the opioid crisis along with the message of keeping protections for preexisting conditions that essentially every Democrat in the country ran on.
Baldwin did, however, strike out early with a stridently populist ad denouncing hedge fund “predators” that clearly demonstrated a desire to inject themes of class conflict into politics and not allow Republicans to define the entire election as a culture war.
Baldwin does not appear to have presidential aspirations, but her success at pushing a left-wing economic agenda in the Midwest will likely see her elevated by progressives as proof that these are winning ideas in swing areas and not just Vermont and the Bronx.