One Wisconsin district is on track to become the first-ever House district to elect two openly gay representatives in a row.
State Rep. Mark Pocan easily won the Democratic primary for Wisconsin’s 2nd District Tuesday night. Pocan has spent over a decade in the legislature and had the support of nearly all Democratic officials and organized labor. His Republican opponent is local businessman Chad Lee. The seat is being vacated by Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who is running for Senate. Baldwin, elected in 1998, is the first openly gay member of Congress to win a House seat as a non-incumbent.
“It just shows that as an issue, society is definitely evolving,” Pocan told TPM before the polls closed. “From the president’s declaration of support for marriage equality, to everything we’ve had over time, it’s clear that people are becoming and more and more appreciative of diversity, I guess.”
Pocan said the Dane County area has been far ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to sexual orientation.
“I remember when I was on the county board, this was 20 years ago, and we actually had more openly gay elected officials on the local level than the entire state of California,” said Pocan. “And that’s such a big part of it, people realize someone who’s openly gay is an elected official and does a good job, that makes it less of an issue overall.”
Pocan is also the longtime owner of a printing business, a union shop that is affiliated with the International Union of Painters and Allied Tradesmen. During the protests in early 2011 over Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-public employee union legislation, he created the signature orange T-shirts that Assembly Democrats wore in the chamber during debates.
The district voted 71 percent for President Obama in 2008, according to data on the new boundary lines provided to TPM by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. That puts Pocan in a strong position to win the seat.
But Pocan said his campaign will still be working hard — to get out the vote for himself and for Democrats other key races, including Baldwin’s.
“We still have to make sure we get across the finish line. But being someone who has always been a big team player, I realize that it’s the whole team who has to get across the finish line. And I have a lot of work to do, but it’s also for a whole team of legislators, and the president.”
Professor Charles Franklin, who heads polling at Marquette Law School, said the district’s large population of highly educated voters and young professionals, and a relative lack of social conservatives or religious fundamentalists, has contributed to its willingness to elect openly gay representatives.
But Franklin credited Baldwin and Pocan for developing strong political organizations and support from voters.
The district’s demographics “created a fertile soil for this to happen, but political skill was needed in both cases to make it the outcome.”