Active in Virginia politics when living in Arlington in the 1990s, I reached a conclusion about most suburban “swing” voters, they are neither pro-gay nor anti-gay, but are rather anti-anti-gay, that is, they really don’t like candidates who make opposition to gay issues the centerpiece of their campaigns. This applies even to voters who agree with the candidates on said issues.
I didn’t need to see the polls to know that Bob McDonnell was going to to well on Tuesday, I knew it from the e-mails I received and blog posts I read. My gay friends in the Commonwealth were voting Republican. It seemed that the gay Republican vote was a kind of barometer of electoral success. When, in the 1990s, gay Republicans embraced the GOP candidate, he won statewide. When they didn’t, he lost. The only two GOP statewide candidates to lose in the 1990s, Mike Farris and Oliver North were perceived as anti-gay.
Now, I realize that New York State’s 23rd Congressional District has different demographics than does the Commonwealth of Virginia, but maybe some of the voters have similar concerns. When we endorsed Doug Hoffman, I heard from a number of readers who said he had run an anti-gay campaign. I could find no evidence of that. (If I had, we would not have endorsed him.) Still, the perception persisted. If some voters in upstate New York thought as much, did they vote for Owens or stay at home because they didn’t want a representatives who emphasized gay issues?
Now, we know from the results in Maine as well as those in thirty other states where voters have considered the issue, that Americans reject gay marriage. But, that doesn’t make opposing gay marriage a winning issue, that is, if said opposition is the centerpiece of your campaign (or is perceived as such). If people think the GOP is the anti-gay marriage party, we lose. Americans may oppose gay marriage, but it is not high on most people’s list of priorities. They need to see us as the conservative reform party where our primary issue is, to paraphrase the Garden State’s Governor-elect, turning government “upside down.”
If they think Republicans prefer talking about the “evils” of gay marriage to putting together plans to reduce government spending, they’re not going to come out and vote for us. But, if as Governors-elect McDonnell and Christie, they put forward reform ideas that don’t involve tax increases, but do include regulatory relief, then they can win even in “blue” regions of the country.