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Baldwin scores leadership role
MADISON (AP) - Wisconsin Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin landed a leadership position Wednesday ahead of her re-election campaign in 2018.

Democrats are preparing to play defense with Republican Donald Trump as president and the GOP in control of both houses of Congress come January.

Baldwin, who was named as Senate Democratic Conference Secretary by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, was first elected in 2012. She is looking ahead to the midterm election, when keeping her in office and trying to win the governor's race will be the two top priorities for Wisconsin Democrats.

The path to victory is typically more difficult for Democrats in Wisconsin during midterm elections, but Democrats are hoping to benefit from a voter backlash after two years of Trump's presidency and Republican control.

Baldwin issued a statement saying she was proud of the appointment but did not mention her upcoming re-election campaign.

"One thing is clear, the Republican establishment now owns Washington," she said, vowing to fight against "corporate lobbyists, big banks and Wall Street."

Republicans cast her appointment as a defensive move ahead of her re-election.

"Washington Democrats are already circling the wagons behind one of their own," Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Pat Garrett said. "Senator Baldwin has a choice: support reform in Washington that works for Wisconsin, or continue to stand with her political allies in Washington who want to protect the status quo."

No Republican has officially announced plans to challenge Baldwin, but U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy and Madison businessman Eric Hovde are mentioned as the most likely possible candidates.

Duffy, who was re-elected to a fourth term last week, lives in Wausau and was an early and outspoken supporter of Trump, whose victory in Wisconsin was fueled by strong returns among rural voters in the northwest part of the state. Tapping those voters, as well as conservatives in suburban Milwaukee counties, will be vital for any Republican who takes on Baldwin in 2018.

For Duffy to challenge Baldwin, he would have to give up his House seat. That may be tough for him, especially with Paul Ryan of Janesville returning as House speaker.

"Congressman Duffy has worked tirelessly to get Republicans elected up and down the ticket so that we can get things done, and he's excited to continue to fight for Wisconsin families," chief of staff Pete Meachum said. "He is keeping his options open for the future in order to determine the best way to serve Wisconsin."

Hovde's first run for office was his Senate bid in 2012, during which he came in second in the Republican primary to former Gov. Tommy Thompson in a four-person race. Baldwin beat Thompson by 5.5 points.

Hovde is chief executive officer of Hovde Properties, a real estate development and management company. He has less to lose than Duffy if he takes on Baldwin, given that he'd have his business to fall back on in defeat. Hovde did not immediately return a message.