Tuesday’s special election for the U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts took an ugly turn in the last few days, with a national anti-gay organization now playing the anti-gay marriage card in an apparent move to turn out social conservatives to vote for Republican Scott Brown.
With barely three days left, the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage began on Saturday to deliver a series of automated anti-gay phone calls in support of Brown and against Democrat Martha Coakley.
In the calls, which originate in a 202 area code, from the Washington, D.C., a recorded male voice asks residents if they view marriage defined as “only between one man and one woman.” If “Yes,” they are urged to vote for Brown, “the only candidate with a proven track record” of supporting traditional marriage. The call also labels Coakley as a “radical” same-marriage supporter who opposed letting the people vote and who used taxpayer dollars to support a same-sex marriage “agenda.”
Coakley, the state’s attorney general, has not attempted to hide her commitment to marriage equality. During a rally at Boston’s Fairmont Copley Hotel, as recently as Friday afternoon, Coakley re-affirmed that support before a primarily straight ballroom packed full of 1,500 Democratic Party national and statewide first-string movers and shakers, including former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Senator John Kerry, Governor Deval Patrick, U.S. Representatives Ed Markey and Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray, and Boston Mayor Tom Menino, among other state and local elected officials.
“I want my nieces and my nephews,” said Coakley “to grow up in world where they can have a good education, in a world that is safe, and that respects their choices in life— whom to marry, for instance.”
Loud cheering and sustained applause cut Coakley’s nod to marriage equality short.
The race to fill the seat vacated by the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is generating anxiety among party loyalists and more than a few LGBT people.
Last Sunday, a Boston Globe poll showed Coakley with a 15-point spread. But the results of a more recent Suffolk University/7News poll showed Brown now ahead by four points.
Currently serving as a state senator, Brown garnered 50 percent, with Coakley holding 46 percent of likely voters. Independent candidate, Joseph L. Kennedy (no relation to the late senator) captured three percent, with one percent undecided.
The statewide survey of 500 Massachusetts registered voters was conducted Jan. 11-13, 2010, with a margin of error is +/- 4.38 percent at a 95 percent level of confidence, according a poll summary report.
What does the most recent round of poll numbers — and the flip from Coakley in the lead to Brown pulling ahead — suggest?
“Brown has surged dramatically,” said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center, noting the race remains within the statistical margin of error.
Even worse for the Democrats, “[Brown] is attracting independent support by a wide margin and even winning some Democrats who won’t vote the party line this time,” according to Paleologos.
By and large, Coakley enjoys wide support and is highly popular across the statewide gay community.
For many LGBT residents of the state, a victory for Brown would constitute a political nightmare. MassEquality, a grassroots gay civil rights advocacy organization, and the Massachusetts Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus, a lobbying group, along with The Boston Globe and Bay Windows, a local LGBT weekly publication, have endorsed Coakley. The Boston Herald endorsed Brown.
For its part, MassEquality has flexed its organizational and volunteer effort behind phone banking for Coakley in a stepped up effort to get out the LGBT vote that could, in a close election, prove critical to a Coakley victory. In the 1990 gubernatorial race, when Republican Bill Weld defeated Democrat John Silber, the gay vote was widely seen to have helped put Weld over the top.
Meanwhile, the recent anti gay-marriage robo call for Brown comes as neither a surprise nor shocker.
“I’m not surprised NOM is making calls for Scott Brown,” said Sara Whitman, chair of the MassEquality board of directors. “The race is very tight and both campaigns are calling out their greatest supporters.”
For Coakley, President Obama has also produced a robo-call and is scheduled to speak at a Sunday afternoon rally for the Democrat at Northeastern University’s Solomon Court at the Cabot Gym. Doors open at 1:00 PM.
To date, Brown’s star power included, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who campaigned with the GOP standard bearer in Boston’s North End neighborhood on Friday.
Like any number of LGBT community leaders and political activists, Whitman voiced concerns about Brown’s social conservatism, pointing to NOM’s latest foray into Massachusetts as evidence of Brown’s form of extremism that is largely out of sync with Massachusetts’ voters.
“Brown has always been an extreme social conservative, although he has not said much about that in his said she is not convinced the anti-gay marriage baiting will be effective.
“I don’t believe it will be a successful tactic in Massachusetts,” she said. “We’ve had marriage equality for almost six years and no storms of locusts have hit the Bay State.”
Taking no chances, however, the Coakley campaign stepped up its TV ads against Brown, in effect pummeling him by “going hard after his social conservative attitudes,” Whitman explained. “I believe [those ads] will be a wake up call to Massachusetts voters.”
Hot button social issues have not played widely in the race, save abortion rights, which for a time was a flash point. The Massachusetts Citizens for Life has endorsed Brown, while NARAL-Pro-choice Massachusetts has endorsed Coakley.
How stark a difference is there for Bay State LGBT voters? Arline Isaacson and Gary Daffin, co-chairs of the Caucus, the state’s leading lobbying organization on Beacon Hill, provide a crib sheets for comparison in a recent e-mail alert:
“Scott Brown has been a consistent opponent of LGBT equal rights:
- “He consistently voted against the LGBT community while in the state senate.
- “He voted over 25 times against equal marriage for the LGBT community.
- “He does not support the Transgender Civil Rights & Hate Crimes Bill, currently pending at the Statehouse.
- “He opposes repealing ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’
- “He opposes repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
- “He has ridiculed LGBT parents as inadequate, saying that gay parenting is ‘not normal.’
- “He supported Gov. Romney’s anti-gay policies on Beacon Hill.
- “He supported former President George Bush’s anti-gay policies in Washington, D. C.”
In contrast, they point out that Coakley “has stood up for the LGBT community at every opportunity.”
According to the Caucus:
- “Coakley filed the first in the nation lawsuit against the federal DOMA.
- “Coakley supports repealing ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’
- “Coakley supports passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA).
- “Coakley supports transgender rights.
- “Coakley supports repealing the federal DOMA.
- “Coakley supports across-the-board equality for LGBT parents and families.
Altogether, “Martha Coakley has played a leadership role on LGBT issues in Massachusetts for many years,” the Caucus alert concludes. “Scott Brown has worked against us throughout his career.”