MADISON — Wisconsin will soon have what could be one of the oddest pairings of U.S. senators — tea party favorite Ron Johnson and proudly progressive Tammy Baldwin.
While Republican Johnson and Democrat Baldwin represent near opposite ends of the political spectrum, they also are a fair picture of the state of politics in Wisconsin, UW-Madison political science professor David Canon said.
Consider that voters here ousted liberal Sen. Russ Feingold of Middleton in favor of Johnson two years ago, but on Tuesday voted in Baldwin, one of the most liberal members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 2010, the state elected Republican Gov. Scott Walker — and reaffirmed the choice in a June 2012 recall — but on Tuesday went for Democratic President Barack Obama by a healthy 7-point margin.
Can Wisconsin's odd couple get along in the Senate? Do they need to?
Not really, Canon said.
"I do not think it affects the state that much," Canon said. "You could argue that in a purple state like Wisconsin, it's good to have a senator from each party. It gives us better overall representation than having both (senators) from one party."
However, added Canon, "It's possible it would be more representative if Ron Johnson weren't so conservative and Tammy Baldwin weren't so liberal."
Loss of committee placements
There is one disadvantage to electing new senators, no matter what their political stripe: Seniority.
Committee assignments are made largely based on how many years a senator has served, Canon said. When Johnson was elected, Wisconsin gave up Feingold's 18 years of seniority. And when Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, retired, Wisconsin lost 24 years of experience.
"You obviously are giving up a lot of clout when you give up more than 40 years of experience with two new senators," Canon said.
The Baldwin-Johnson pairing will be among a handful in which both of a state's senators were elected in 2010 or after.
One advantage Baldwin, D-Madison, has over Johnson is her 14 years in Congress, which "clearly gives her a leg up" over other freshman senators such as Johnson, an Oshkosh business owner who came in with no government experience, Canon said.
"Tammy Baldwin will have a much shorter learning curve than Ron Johnson does," he said.
Baldwin also may be able to wangle more important committee assignments because of expertise she built up in the House, such as work on health-care issues, Canon said.
Senators will determine the all-important committee assignments over the next two months. Baldwin will be sworn in Jan. 3, when the new session begins.
Baldwin, 50, defeated Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson in Tuesday's election for the open Senate seat, making her the state's first female senator and the first openly gay candidate elected to the Senate.
Baldwin said she is confident she and Johnson could work together to address local and national problems, including the looming debt crisis and federal deficit. She said they cooperated on securing federal funding for a new bridge connecting western Wisconsin and Minnesota and removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list.
"One aspect of all people who seek public service is that they care deeply about their state," Baldwin said. "There are some things we can find common ground."
Johnson said he congratulated Baldwin on her win and hopes to meet with her soon.
"Hopefully I can sit down and lay out for her my best understanding of the federal budget because they're simply the facts," he said. "Hopefully she'll agree with what the facts are and work toward common sense solutions."
But disagreements already are surfacing. Johnson attributed Obama's win to an uninformed electorate who voted Tuesday but not in the recall of Republican Gov. Scott Walker in June.
"If you aren't properly informed, if you don't understand the problems facing this nation, you are that much more prone to falling prey to demagoguing solutions. And the problem with demagoguing solutions is they don't work," Johnson said.
Baldwin disagreed with Johnson's characterization of the electorate.
"People wanted their voices to be heard," Baldwin said. "I actually think they were well-informed."