Wis. Elects First Openly Gay Person To U.S. Senate

Wisconsin voters chose the Obama ticket over their own native son Paul Ryan. And the state is sending the first openly gay senator to Washington: Tammy Baldwin defeated former Governor Tommy Thompson for the seat of retiring Senator Herb Kohl.

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In Wisconsin, Democrats won big just five months after a stinging defeat in their effort to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker. President Obama won the state, even though Mitt Romney chose Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. Plus Wisconsin voters elected Democrat Tammy Baldwin to be the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate.

From Madison, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The dreary, cold and rainy Election Day weather in Janesville, Wisconsin didn't dampen the enthusiasm of Lisa Hinkleman(ph) .

LISA HINKLEMAN: Oh, I'm excited.

SCHAPER: Excited about the possibility of electing one of her neighbors vice president of the United States.

HINKLEMAN: I love Paul Ryan. I was disappointed. I didn't vote till 10, and I heard he was here, like, 8:30. So I was very disappointed that I didn't see him.

SCHAPER: Despite missing her congressman when he voted here at the Janesville public library just a couple of blocks from the Ryan home, Hinkleman says Ryan brought much-needed conservatism to the Republican ticket this year, and...

HINKLEMAN: Who knows? Maybe he'll be president some day.

SCHAPER: In fact, every Romney voter I talked to said they love Paul Ryan. But there are several neighbors of Ryan who aren't quite as enthusiastic.

DAVE CARLSON: I think that he's a fine person. I know him.

SCHAPER: Dave Carlson goes to church with Ryan, and has even coached Ryan's kids, and despite voting for Ryan in the past, Carlson says he didn't vote for him this time.

CARLSON: I think that people in this district have learned a lot more about where his allegiances lie, what his policies imply, as a result of the national attention being focused on his road map for America.

SCHAPER: And, in fact, the Romney-Ryan ticket lost Ryan's home town and county pretty decisively. But Ryan will return to Congress, as he won reelection to the House from his wide, southern Wisconsin district.

And moving up from the House to the U.S. Senate is Democrat Tammy Baldwin. She makes history as the first openly gay member elected to the Senate. But that's not why William Abraham of Janesville voted for her.

WILLIAM ABRAHAM: I come down for the Labor Day parade and she, you know, I asked her a question, she actually took time to stop and talk to me about it. So I believe, you know, she's true middle class, and that's - we need more people for the middle class people.

SCHAPER: Baldwin defeated former four-term Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson, one of this state's most successful politicians ever, but one who's popularity has clearly has faded.

David Schaper, NPR News, in Madison, Wisconsin.

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