President Barack Obama’s backing of gay marriage poses potential political challenges for him in many of the states that may decide this year’s election, though his move is “the right thing to do,” said strategist Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush.
“I give the president great credit for voting his conscience, because when you net this all out, it’s not a political winner,” McKinnon said yesterday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
Offering an overview of some of the most competitive battlegrounds in Democrat Obama’s re-election bid, McKinnon said, “You net look at those states and think about where’s that going to help him, probably just one -- Colorado. And maybe New Hampshire.”
In other swing states -- including Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Arizona, Missouri and North Carolina -- “arguably, it’s a net loser,” McKinnon said of Obama publicly expressing support for same-sex marriage in an interview May 9 with ABC News.
Obama’s statement set off speculation about its political effect and the contrast it creates with presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who opposes gay marriage. Romney reiterated his opposition in a commencement address May 12 at Lynchburg, Virginia-based Liberty University, an evangelical school.
McKinnon, who helped orchestrate Republican Bush’s successful White House campaigns in 2000 and 2004, in expressing his own support for Obama’s gay-marriage position said the president may gain some political benefit from it.
“What’s important is we have a president who leads and stands for what he believes in,” McKinnon said. “President Bush won re-election in 2004 not because people liked him necessarily, or even agreed with his policies, they voted for him because they thought he had core principles and he’d fight for them.”
Former Solicitor General Ted Olson, who held that job under Bush and who McKinnon termed “a legend” among Republicans, also said he supported Obama’s decision on “Face the Nation.”
“I don’t know about politics,” Olson said when asked about the move’s possible impact on the election. “I do know about human rights, and constitutional rights, and on that basis I think the president did the right thing and I’m very glad he did it.”
2000 Court Case
Olson, the lead counsel for Bush in the 2000 Supreme Court case that decided that year’s election, has joined with David Boies, the lead attorney for 2000 Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in that year’s battle for the White House, to legally challenge California’s 2008 ballot measure known as Proposition 8 that banned gay marriage.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a group opposed to abortion rights and gay marriage, said on “Face the Nation” that Obama’s gay-marriage position will bolster Romney’s standing with evangelical voters who are part of the Republican Party base.
“I think that Barack Obama has helped fit that missing piece of intensity that Mitt Romney’s going to need,” Perkins said.
In March, when the Republican race remained undecided, Perkins said that many voters for whom opposition to gay marriage and abortion are paramount issues “have not been excited” by Romney.
“They just don’t think Romney’s conservative,” Perkins said at the time.
Some doubt Obama’s announcement will have much impact on the presidential race.
“I literally don’t think anybody’s vote was changed by this one way or the other,” said Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat.
“I can’t think there are many people who said, OK, well, I’m going to vote for Obama even though he said that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and he said gay people can serve in the military, but if he says marriage, that goes too far,” Frank said on ABC’s “This Week” program.
Frank, who is openly gay and isn’t seeking re-election this year after 16 terms in office, referred to the Obama administration’s decision last year to no longer defend the law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex spouses and the president’s push for repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military.
Polling shows the gay marriage issue deeply divides Americans. Fifty percent of respondents said in a May 3-6 Gallup poll that same-sex marriages should be recognized as legal, with 48 percent saying they shouldn’t.
Independents support same-sex marriage 57 percent to 40 percent, according to the Gallup Poll.
An April 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed a 7-percentage-point drop in opposition among independents over the last four years, and a 15-point drop over the last eight years.
Romney, though, could benefit with older people, as opposition to gay marriage tends to increase by age, according to polls. Just 30 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds were opposed to gay marriage in the Pew survey, compared with 56 percent of those over the age of 65.
-- Editors: Don Frederick, Ann Hughey.