Baldwin is the first openly gay or lesbian candidate to win election to the U.S. Congress as a non-incumbent. It was her somewhat unconventional upbringing that led to her keen understanding of the divisions in American society and her belief that they must be overcome.
Her parents divorced right after she was born and she was raised by her mother and grandparents. Her mother was addicted to prescription drugs for much of Baldwin's childhood, and successfully beat her problem, giving Baldwin a personal perspective on issues of addiction.
Baldwin received her B.A. in government and mathematics from Smith, and her J.D. from the University of Wisconsin. She was elected to the Wisconsin legislature at thirty, the youngest representative ever, and also the first openly gay person to serve. After six years in the legislature where she gained a reputation for being far to the left in her advocacy of the disadvantaged and her support for active government, she was elected to Congress in a surprise victory.
Baldwin's record as a Democrat in the House has continued to be progressive. Important stands have included a push for universal healthcare and government-funded daycare, environmental protection, and domestic violence legislation. On the gay rights front she has co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act alongside Republican Jim Kolbe, and also sponsored with Kolbe the original Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Despite an outpouring of conservative monies, Baldwin won re-election in a close race in 2000. She continues to feel her primary responsibility is to those whose voices are unheard on Capitol Hill.