David Schaper

Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin's sexual orientation was never really a factor in her victorious campaign against Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson. Advocates for gay rights see that as a watershed moment for the movement.

Baldwin won a seat many thought she couldn't, defeating one of the state's most successful politicians in the process. The celebration Tuesday night in Madison was euphoric.

The enthusiastic crowd was never louder than when Baldwin acknowledged making history.

One of the most bitter congressional races is in the suburbs of Chicago, where controversial freshman Republican Joe Walsh is fighting to keep a seat he was actually drawn out of.

The Tea Party favorite's bombastic rants frequently get him into trouble, even with members of his own party, and Walsh is facing a tough Democratic opponent in Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, who lost both of her legs in combat.

On her 22nd birthday this summer, Sarah Wagner of suburban Wheaton, Ill., who describes herself as a huge fan of the Chicago Cubs, opened an email to find an incredible surprise — a recorded message from her favorite Cubs player:

"Hey, Sarah! Kerry Wood here! Thanks for your message and I hope you're having a great summer!"

"When I heard for the first time, I instantly smiled," says Wagner. "I think my hands probably went over like my mouth, like, 'Oh my gosh, Kerry Wood is talking to me, even though he has no idea who I am!' "

One of the most important seats in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate is in Wisconsin, where Democrat Herb Kohl is retiring. Early polls showed popular former Gov. Tommy Thompson might easily flip the seat to the GOP, but he's now trailing Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin. It's a race that's going down to the wire in this almost evenly divided state.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This summer's drought is not helping the wildfire situation, and the drought is also deeply harming the nation's agricultural economy. Parched lands extend from California to Indiana, and from Texas to South Dakota, impacting everyone from farmers and ranchers to barge operators and commodity traders.

As NPR's David Schaper reports, some farmers are getting close to calling it quits.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Looking over his small, 100-acre farm near South Union, Kentucky, Rich Vernon doesn't like what he sees.

This summer's drought continues to wilt and bake crops from Ohio to the Great Plains and beyond. Under a baking, late-afternoon sun just outside of the tiny east-central Illinois town of Thawville, John Hildenbrand walks down his dusty, gravel driveway toward one of his corn fields.

"You can see on the outer edge, these are a lot better-looking ears on the outside rows. Of course, it's not near as hot as it is inside the field," he says.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On a Wednesday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Whenever a car or truck turns off busy Channahon Road onto the long drive to the Caterpillar plant in Joliet, Ill., a handful of union workers on a picket line scream, "Scab! Scab!!"

As strikers try shaming the few workers and managers who cross the line, even a clearly marked sandwich delivery car gets shouted down.

Approximately 800 workers at this plant, which makes hydraulic systems for Caterpillar's heavy construction and mining equipment, are about to enter their third month on strike.

Negotiations Fail

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Republican Gov. Scott Walker triumphantly returned to the Wisconsin Capitol Wednesday, fresh off of his decisive victory in Tuesday's bitter recall election.

The governor appears to be emerging from the tough recall fight stronger, and with his national profile rising.

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