The accepted storyline about President Barack Obama’s recent endorsement of gay marriage is that his hand was forced by Vice President Joe Biden’s loose lips.But a new report from New York’s John Heilemann indicates that that narrative may not be entirely true.
In a behemoth New York magazine feature about Obama’s re-election strategy, Heilemann writes that the President himself decided that he wanted to come out in support of legalizing same-sex marriage, and that his senior campaign advisors and communications team agonized for months over the pros and cons of the shift.
The question of whether Obama’s new stance narrows or widens his path to victory in November is one that [White House communications director David] Plouffe and his comrades have been agonizing over since early this year, when their boss returned from vacation and told them he wanted to take the plunge. The possible political benefits are clear: jazzing up young voters, ginning up gay dollars. As are the costs: turning off socially conservative Democrats and independents, particularly in four pivotal swing states—Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, and Virginia. But as to the net effect of the announcement on Obama’s ability to accumulate 270 electoral votes, his adjutants are unable to render a firm verdict. “I think there is more upside potential than downside potential,” Plouffe says. “But is there a scenario where it’s harder? Yes.”
Although Heilemann does not address whether Biden’s comments were “accidental,” his story does underscore how much intense thought and calculation that went into Obama’s gay marriage announcement. Despite the V.P.’s penchant for foot-in-mouth gaffes, it’s seems like a bit of a stretch to think that he would have screwed up such a huge message roll-out, and more likely that he was simply testing the waters before the President made the leap.
UPDATE: Heilemann writes, via Twitter, that Biden’s comment “was screwup, NOT testing waters.”
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