Dems clinging to Senate, and stark contrast to GOP
The likelihood of Democrats retaining a majority of the U.S. Senate has diminished dramatically in recent days. But the news is worse than that for the LGBT community, which has had to depend on the Democratic Party to do any of its bidding in Congress.
The Tea Party Republican Senate candidate in Colorado who called homosexuality a choice has a 66 percent chance of beating the Democratic incumbent who has a pro-gay record. The Tea Party Republican Senate candidate in Nevada, who would ban adoptions by gays, has a 62 percent chance of unseating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has a 100 score from the Human Rights Campaign. The Wisconsin Republican candidate, who says he will “stand up to attacks” on such “traditional values” as marriage meaning “one man and one woman,” now has a 94 percent chance of ousting longtime gay civil rights supporter Russ Feingold.
The percentages come from the New York Times’ election data cruncher known as fivethirtyeight. It analyzes polling, demographic, and other relevant data, computes 100,000 simulations based on “random variation in the local and national political environment,” and spits two numbers: one is a projected election result (what percent of the vote each candidate will take), the other is a percentage representing the likelihood that one candidate will beat the other.
The bad news is: It’s likely Republicans will beat Democrats in 26 of the 37 Senate races November 2. That will mean –if the outcome sticks to the prediction—that three Democratic incumbents whose voting records have been strongly pro-gay: Reid in Nevada, Feingold in Wisconsin, and Michael Bennet in Colorado.
It means Democrats might hold as few as 51 or 52 seats in the Senate, giving them an even weaker majority than the 57 they have in the current Congressional session which has been marked by filibusters and other obstructionist acts by the minority.
But there is good news: 8 of the 12 incumbent Democrats who have HRC scores of 80 or better are poised to win re-election fairly easily, according to the NYT-fivethirtyeight predictions. That includes Barbara Boxer of California, Patty Murray of Washington, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, and Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
In Delaware, where a Republican Tea Party candidate, Christine O’Donnell has described homosexuality as “an identity disorder,” Democrat Chris Coons is seen as 100 percent likely to win. That’s not because of O’Donnell’s remarks about homosexuality so much as her revelation years ago that she has “dabbled into witchcraft.” Interestingly, very little has been discussed about her revelation at that same time—on the Bill Maher Show in 1999—that she had “dates” with a “witch” but “never joined a coven.”
“I hung around people who were doing these things,” said O’Donnell. She never explained, and no media has apparently asked, for details, probably because there have been so many of her foibles to keep up with.
According to Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast website, O’Donnell has a lesbian sister, in Los Angeles, but O’Donnell’s own evangelical organization—Savior’s Alliance for Lifting Truth (SALT)—organized to oppose homosexuality, among other things. When the organization’s ex-gay outreach director, Wade Richards, came out publicly as gay in an article in The Advocate magazine, he said O’Donnell “totally turned her back on me.”
Salon.com said O’Donnell used a video with a “sizzling sub-narrative” that her Republican primary opponent, Mike Castle, was “cheating on his wife with a man.” It’s not clear where and when the video, produced by a consulting firm that O’Donnell hired, was aired. But, after disavowing the tactic of gay-baiting, O’Donnell continued to make her own gay-baiting statements, including an admonition for Castle to “put your man pants on.”
The list of anti-gay remarks and positions O’Donnell has racked up is numerous, very numerous. So, what about her Democratic opponent?
The Human Rights Campaign has endorsed Chris Coons, a county executive who it says “will continue fighting for LGBT issues.” He’s for marriage equality, for repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and for passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
No other Senate race has been quite this saturated with gay hostilities, but many of them show equally stark splits between the Republican and the Democrat on issues of basic interest to the LGBT community, such as DOMA, DADT, and ENDA:
- CALIFORNIA: Incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer has earned a 100 percent from HRC. She voted against a motion that would have led to a vote on a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and she voted for an amendment to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crimes statute. In 1996, she was one of only 14 senators to vote against DOMA, and she voted for ENDA. She is co-sponsor of a bill to provide equal benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. Her Republican opponent, Carly Fiorina, former Chairman of Hewlett-Packard, is opposed to equal rights to marriage for same-sex couples but supports allowing them to have civil unions. She has expressed support for DOMA, noting that it had “bipartisan support” and is supported by President Obama. She has also expressed support for Proposition 8, saying the voters were clear about what they wanted and that it was “perhaps not appropriate” for a single judge to overturn a law approved by voters. However, she said, “I support very much the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
- COLORADO: Incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet has been in office only since January 2009, when he was appointed to serve out the term of now Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar. He has not been in office long enough yet to earn a rating from HRC, but he supports many pro-LGBT bills and is co-sponsor of repealing DADT and ENDA. In the primary campaign, Bennet said through a spokesperson that he supports full repeal of DOMA but also supports the right of states to pass ballot measures banning gay marriage. Bennet supports the repeal of DADT. His Republican opponent Ken Buck made headlines last Sunday when he told NBC’s Meet the Press that he thinks homosexuality is a choice. Bennet called Buck’s remark “outside the mainstream” of opinion on the issue.
- FLORIDA: This is a three-way race, with polls indicating Tea Party Republican Mark Rubio has a 92.7 percent chance of winning. Both he and Independent candidate Charlie Crist oppose repeal of DADT. Crist has said he would oppose a same-sex marriage ban in the federal constitution but believes marriage is between one man and one woman and that gay couples should have only civil unions. Crist has also expressed support for a state appeals court decision that struck down the state’s ban on gays adopting. Democrat Kendrik Meek includes a large section on his campaign website expressing his support for equal rights for LGBT people, including opposition to a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, support for repealing DADT, and opposition to Florida’s adoption ban. Meek, however, is given less than one percent chance of pulling out a victory.
- ILLINOIS: This is one of the tightest races in the country, with Republican Mark Kirk showing only a 54 percent chance of taking replacing Democrat Roland Burris in Barack Obama’s old seat. HRC has endorsed Democrat Alex Giannoulias, saying he stands for “full equality” for LGBT people, including marriage equality, repeal of DOMA and DADT. Kirk has earned strong voting scores from HRC—85, 75, and 88—during the past three Congressional sessions, when he served in the House, but last June he voted against repeal of DADT. Following numerous reports by bloggers that Kirk is a closeted gay man, a local television reporter asked him why the bloggers “keep saying that.” Kirk, who has said publicly he is not gay, said he thinks it’s because he’s divorced.
- NEVADA: Republican Sharron Angle vowed not to take contributions from corporations that provide equal partner benefits to gay employees. In debate last week, she dodged a question about her position on DADT, except to say that she thought it was wrong for the Senate to take up the issue via the defense spending bill before the Pentagon turned in its study. And she volunteered that she supports Nevada’s law to “define marriage as between a man and a woman.” NYT-fivethirtyeight gives Angle a 62 percent chance of winning the seat held by Democrat Harry Reid, a member whom HRC rates as 100 percent supportive on LGBT issues.
- WASHINGTON: Longtime LGBT supporter Patty Murray is not perfect on gay issues. She voted for DOMA, but she co-sponsored ENDA and supports repeal of DADT. And she has a serious challenger in Republican Dino Rossi. NYT-fivethirtyeight says Murray has an 83.7 percent chance of winning but the likely result looks like 51 percent to 46.5 percent with a five-point margin of error, so it’s considered a toss-up. Rossi, two years ago, indicated he does not support marriage equality for gays and was not entirely supportive of even domestic partnerships.
- WISCONSIN: Incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold is in a tough fight for his seat, and NYT-fivethirtyeight gives his Tea Party Republican opponent, Ron Johnson, a 94 percent chance of taking the victory November 2. Feingold rates a 90 score from HRC and, like Boxer, was one of only 14 senators in 1996 to vote against DOMA. HRC says he was also one of the first senators to publicly support marriage equality for same-sex couples. Johnson supports repealing DADT but only if the military approves it, and he opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples.
Meanwhile, a number of candidates in both Senate and House races have taken to taunting their opponents—at least the male ones—to “man up” or act “like a man.” It’s not a sophisticated level of discourse and may reflect frustration with their own campaigns or their own ability to defend their political positions.
Kendrick Meek, for instance, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Florida, told reporters that Independent candidate Charlie Crist “needs to man up and leader up his own campaign,” rather than suggest that Meek’s campaign is flailing.
Sharron Angle, the Republican challenging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for Nevada’s seat in the Senate, garnered considerable media attention for her “Man up, Harry Reid” quip in their only debate October 14. Democratic incumbent Robin Carnahan of Missouri said her Republican opponent should “man up” and repeal his own health insurance before asking others to.
And Tea Party Republican Rand Paul, seeking a Senate seat representing Kentucky, goaded his Democratic opponent to “run a race like a man.”
The highly publicized gender-based goading comes at an especially ironic time, on the heels of increased attention nationwide to the negative consequences of bullying, especially against LGBT youth.