Flash back to Tuesday night. Just a little more than 12 hours before word would start to spread that President Obama was getting ready to take the historic step of publicly endorsing gay marriage. North Carolina’s Amendment 1 had passed with voters, overwhelmingly. Everyone — from Republicans to some Democrats to gay rights groups — blasted Obama.
Amendment 1, which banned both gay marriages and civil unions in North Carolina, was the final straw for some gay rights groups — the same ones that had promoted the Obama administration’s record on gay rights, including the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the decision to no longer defend the defence of Marriage Act.
By 3 p.m. the next day, all of that didn’t matter. Gone. Out the window. In 18 hours, he had completely shifted the issue of gay marriage from a major potential liability into a base energizer and a campaign strength.
“It takes a tremendous amount of courage to do that following a huge loss in North Carolina,” Fred Karger, the gay Republican presidential candidate, told Business Insider on Wednesday. “And I know they’re doing a lot of internal polling looking at Ohio, Florida, New Mexico. This is a still a very controversial issue.
“But that’s what a president does. That’s why we elect a president: for bold leadership.”
The move is not without risk. But there are a few reasons why polling analysts and party leaders think Obama will only benefit from his move to endorse gay marriage.
It coincides with a shift in public opinion nationally. It announces a bold move, even in the face of unpopularity in the swing state North Carolina. And analysts don’t believe it will shift many, if any, votes this November, while they think it will re-energize a base to pump support and money into a campaign that has struggled to come anywhere close to the enthusiasm levels of 2008.
Many believe it won’t affect the election at all. Rep. Barney Frank, who is gay, told Rachel Maddow Wednesday night that he doesn’t believe this announcement will have any political bearing for this election. And Karger said the net effects would amount to a “wash” — it’s still about the economy. And indeed, the issue of gay marriage and gay rights poll very low on voters’ importance of issues.
Take North Carolina, for example. Virginia grey, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of North Carolina, said in a phone interview Wednesday that the margin by which Amendment 1 passed — about 61 per cent to 39 per cent — “has to be a concern” for the Obama campaign.
But remember: North Carolinians really did not understand what they were voting for. In its final poll before Tuesday, Public Policy Polling found these crazy numbers: 53 per cent of voters in North Carolina support either gay marriage or civil unions. And 46 per cent did not realise that they were voting to ban both. Yet 61 per cent ended up voting “yes.”
In time, voters will begin to realise the full effect of what they passed. The increased awareness could mobilize more support in grassroots campaigns and, in turn, for Obama.
“I think the days of Republicans using gay marriage as a wedge issue to rile up socially conservative voters, those days are waning,” said Jim Williams, a polling analyst at PPP, which is based in Raleigh.
“At this point, public opinion on gay marriage in America is changing rapidly. And there’s just as many people who are going to be excited about President Obama coming out in support of gay marriage and are going to be more likely to work on his behalf. And that will negate any sort of conservative uprising.”
What about black voters, who tend to vote Democratic but are more socially conservative on issues like gay marriage? Well, Williams said, Obama is not going to lose any of those votes. Both Williams and UNC’s grey said the effect there could be on turnout rather than a shift in vote to Mitt Romney.
But Obama could also press the issue and drive the agenda, driving more black voters to support gay marriage.
And sometimes, people respond to bold moves.
“Especially with Gov. Romney, who seems to lack a core, I think President Obama was probably concerned of a similar charge against him on this issue,” Karger told Business Insider on Wednesday. “So the fact that he now is honest … I think it’s the domino effect. It will encourage many Democrats and even some Republicans to come out and support this.”
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