President Barack Obama won Wisconsin by a comfortable margin in 2008, but a statewide Republican resurgence in 2010, combined with the vice-presidential nomination of native son Paul Ryan and a closely watched U.S. Senate race featuing Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson, makes the Badger State a priority for both parties in 2012.
The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a bipartisan group that works to elect openly LGBT leaders to public office, is offering volunteers a way to tap into the enthusiasm leading up to November and over the longer term. The group has launched the Weekend in Wisconsin program to recruit volunteers to the state, where they can work side by side with political professionals on key campaigns for LGBT candidates and help build organizational strengths.
"Wisconsin is an incredibly exciting state this election cycle," said Tiffany Muller, vice president of political operations for the Victory Fund. "We want to make sure that we continue to build a stronger organization and grassroots presence across the country, and Wisconsin is one of those places."
A hotbed for progressive thought since the early 20th century, with many reforms pioneered by Republicans, Wisconsin became a focal point earlier this year with the unsuccessful attempt to recall Scott Walker, the Republican governor. Progressives, conservatives, and people in between remain fired up since that June election, and with high-profile candidates like Ryan and Baldwin on the ballot, the state has become an epicenter of the nation's competing political energies.
Weekend in Wisconsin immerses recruits in these dynamics and provides training in field organizing. Volunteers will learn about canvassing, phone banking, and other activities designed to reach voters in the state and turn them out on Election Day. The program provides housing if needed, but volunteers must find their own way to the state.
"What they can learn is the importance of their involvement in elections," said Muller. "One person can go to Wisconsin and meet and contact hundreds of voters and help persuade them and help let them know why their vote maters, and it is those people who help change the course of elections."
Victory Fund members and volunteers have previously traveled to help candidates, such as Brian Sims in his successful bid for the Democratic nomination for the Pennsylvania House last April, but Weekend in Wisconsin represents the largest and most formal effort of its kind to date. In addition to Baldwin, the organization has endorsed Mark Pocan, the gay state assemblyman running to replace her in the U.S. House, and bisexual state representative JoCasta Zamarripa, who is seeking reelection. Volunteers could be assigned to any of the campaigns.
Baldwin, who stands to become the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate and the first woman to represent Wisconsin in the chamber, has generated the most attention across the country. Her race against Thompson, a Republican former four-term governor, is one of a handful that could determine control of the Senate. Recent polling shows her with an almost double-digit lead over Thompson, but the race is expected to be close and expensive, with super PACs on both sides pouring money into the state.
"We see excitement about the LGBT community but also among the progressive community," said Muller of the Senate contest. "She is a true progressive fighter and so her experience really excites a number of people, not just one community."
Prospective volunteers who cannot travel to Wisconsin can still assist in the effort. The Victory Fund plans to set up virtual phone banks and will provide interested parties with resources to contact voters from their homes.
Volunteers are being recruited for weekends from now until Election Day. Visit the Victory Fund to learn more about Weekend in Wisconsin.