MADISON, Wis. — Tammy Baldwin hoped to use a prime-time slot Thursday at the Democratic national convention to raise her profile, both in Wisconsin and across the country, and make the case for why she she's the better U.S. Senate candidate than well-known former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson.
Baldwin, a seven-term congresswoman from Madison, is well known in her district but not statewide. The most recent poll in mid-August had her trailing Thompson by 9 points but also showed 31 percent didn't know her well enough to form an opinion.
Her speech, one of several lead-ins to President Barack Obama, comes on the biggest night of the convention and highlights the importance of the race as Democrats try to maintain the majority in the Senate. Republicans need to pick up four seats to take control, or just three if Mitt Romney is elected president.
Wisconsin Democrats have been in the shadow of the state's Republicans after Romney tagged Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate and Gov. Scott Walker won a June recall election. Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, is also from Wisconsin and was in the national spotlight last week as organizer of their convention.
Thompson, who was first elected to the state Legislature in 1966 and served 14 years as governor, wasn't given a speaking slot at the GOP convention. Still, he's never lost a statewide election and in May survived a four-way primary to face Baldwin, who had no opponent.
Baldwin has said in comments leading up to her speech that she intends to contrast her vision for Wisconsin with the one given by Republicans at their convention. A strong advocate of Obama's health care reform law, Baldwin has attempted to position herself as the candidate looking out for concerns of the middle class while portraying Thompson as an out-of-touch Washington lobbyist.
Baldwin, 50, was the first openly gay candidate to win election to the House in 1998. She is looking to become the first openly gay candidate elected to the Senate, and the first woman senator from Wisconsin.
Baldwin's sexuality has not been a focus of the campaign on either side, but on Thursday in advance of Baldwin's speech, Thompson's political director Brian Nemoir posted a Twitter message that said "T. Baldwin's 'The Wisconsin I know' -- Here's a quick intro" and then provided a link to video of Baldwin dancing at a 2010 gay pride festival to the "Wonder Woman" theme song.
Nemoir also posted a link to the same video on Wednesday saying "T. Baldwin 'heartland values' topic for her big speech to the DNC-who better."
The nearly 2-minute long video shows Baldwin dancing to a disco band, whose members are dressed in costumes including one as the comic book character Wonder Woman. It ends with Baldwin hugging the Wonder Woman dancer.
Nemoir and Baldwin's spokesman did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Thompson, 70, left the governor's office in 2001 and served four years as then-President George W. Bush's health secretary. After that, he worked as an attorney for a prominent Washington lobbying and law firm before returning to Wisconsin for the Senate race.
Thompson's campaign has tried to portray Baldwin as an out-of-touch liberal who would only add to the nation's $16 trillion debt.
Before Baldwin's speech, Thompson's campaign manager Keith Gilkes released a statement saying Thompson was offering a vision for a new direction in Wisconsin while Baldwin's plan was "more of the same."
"We need to get our country working again, with real jobs-producing reforms like Tommy Thompson will once again push, rather than government-growing radical experiments like Baldwin is quick to embrace," Gilkes said.
Baldwin's fortunes may depend on how well Obama does in Wisconsin. The presidential race and the open Senate seat, caused by the retirement of Democrat Herb Kohl, are the only two statewide races on the ticket.
Even though Obama carried Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008, the state has swung dramatically to the right since then. Polls have shown that while Baldwin trails Thompson, Obama has a narrow lead over Romney that has shrunk with the addition of Ryan to the GOP ticket. The state hasn't voted for a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan in 1984.