Just two years after Wisconsin's Supreme Court upheld a constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions, the state has elected the nation's first lesbian to the U.S. Senate. Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin made history on Election Day, ushering in a victory not only for Democrats but also for LGBT rights.
"I’m well aware that I will have the honor to be the first woman senator from Wisconsin. And I’m well aware that I will be the first openly gay member of the United States Senate," Baldwin said in her acceptance speech Tuesday night.
"In choosing me to tackle those challenges, the people of Wisconsin have made history," she later added.
Baldwin follows the footsteps of Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank who in 1987 became the first lawmaker in Congress to voluntarily come out as gay.
Her historic victory arrives during an election year where voters also made history in approving gay marriage at the ballot box for the first time. The president, vice president, and official Democrat Party also endorsed gay marriage this year.
Despite her groundbreaking accomplishments, Baldwin said her campaign was not all about civil rights achievements.
"I didn’t run to make history," she said. "I ran to make a difference — a difference in the lives of families struggling to find work and pay the bills, a difference in the lives of students worried about debt and seniors worried about their retirement security, a difference in the lives veterans who fought for us and need someone fighting for them and their families when they return home from war, a difference in the lives of entrepreneurs trying to build a business and working people trying to build some economic security."
Baldwin won a hard-fought battle against a Republican veteran who was no stranger to Wisconsin's electorate: Tommy Thompson. The four-term former Wisconsin governor who served a whopping 14 years for the Badger State, was a conservative heavy-hitter coming into the race with the support of the GOP establishment after having already served as the secretary of health and human services under President George W. Bush.
NBC News' Decision Desk called the race for Baldwin with 51% of the vote to his 46% when 96% of precincts had reported in.
Baldwin in her acceptance speech gave a nod to Thompson's prolific political career while adding a personal note on how the two first met years ago.
"I also want to thank Tommy Thompson for his life in public service, and before I do, I'd like you to indulge me in an acknowledgement on a very personal level," Baldwin said. "Tommy and I didn't always agree, in fact, in this campaign we didn't agree on much but there is no doubt that he shares my love and all of our love for Wisconsin."
Exit polls showed that Wisconsin women turned out for Baldwin, with 56% of Badger State women turning out for the female candidate, compared to 42% for Thompson.