There are many key votes on the line next Tuesday: The first real prospect for electing an openly gay person to the U.S. Senate, the probability of winning a marriage equality vote in at least one of five states, and the possibility of the partisan majority changing hands in either the House or Senate. Altogether, they make for an edge-of-your-seat, hold-your-breath drama.
But no contest will have a greater impact on the LGBT community this year than the presidential one, and with just days to go before the November 6 voting, the polls show a close race. Each side can point to some data that signal promise for their candidate. Republican challenger Mitt Romney can point to the average of polls calculated by realclearpolitics.com and say he’s almost one point ahead in the popular vote. He can point to the Gallup Poll’s daily tracking that, as of October 28, showed him the choice of 50 percent of 2,700 likely voters, compared to 46 percent for incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama.
Obama can point to that same poll, however, and say Romney’s down two points from where he was two weeks ago. He can say the Investor’s Business Daily/TIPP poll shows him up by one over Romney as of October 27. And he can note that the New York Times’ respected fivethirtyeight.com site has calculated a 74 percent chance that the president will hang onto the White House, securing 296 electoral vote, when he needs only 270 to win.
For most LGBT people, who wins the White House spells the difference between a candidate who has said he believes one should treat gay people “the way you would want to be treated” and a candidate who has said that he does not discriminate against “people who have different sexual orientation.”
No one in either major party would likely dispute the notion that President Obama has done more to help the cause of equality for LGBT people than any president in history. His administration actively pursued and secured repeal of the military ban on gays, issued a memorandum requiring hospitals provide visitation rights to the partners of patients, enforced (as required by law) but refused to defend in court as constitutional the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), appointed an openly gay man as head of the Office of Personnel Management and a lesbian to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, nominated several openly gay people to federal court seats, and solicited a nationally televised interview to explain to the American people why he supports allowing gay couples to marry.
In April, the Obama campaign officially opposed the Minnesota ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage. On October 25, the campaign issued statements saying the president supports efforts on the ballots in Maine, Maryland, and Washington to secure marriage equality for gay couples. And on October 26, in response to a question on MTV’s “Ask Obama Live,” he reiterated his position in support of allowing gays to marry, albeit with a nod of respect toward the right of each state to decide the question for itself.
Romney has a record of saying he is against discrimination based on sexual orientation and then days or years later supporting laws that would disadvantage people based on their sexual orientation if it’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
Romney opposes marriage equality, opposes gays as parents, and opposes gays in the military. He opposes the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, opposes funding for a hate crimes law that includes protections for gays, and supports a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage everywhere.
As governor of Massachusetts, he frequently wielded his power to oppose equal rights for gays. He tried to orchestrate legislative opposition to the state Supreme Judicial Court ruling for marriage equality and then, according to a recent Boston Globe discovery, asserted executive approval over any birth certificate for the child of a same-sex couple. There also emerged during the campaign a well-documented report from the Washington Post that, as a student in prep school, Romney led an attack on a fellow student because the young man’s haircut was not sufficiently masculine in Romney’s view (Romney denied he thought the student was gay).
During a Republican primary debate, he was asked how he has tried to influence other Republicans on “gay rights.”
“I don’t discriminate in the appointments that I made as governor of Massachusetts,” said Romney, adding that “a member of my cabinet was gay.”
“I appointed people to the bench, regardless of their sexual orientation, made it very clear that we should not discriminate in hiring policies, in legal policies. At the same time, from the very beginning, in 1994, I said to the gay community, ‘I do not favor same-sex marriage. I oppose same-sex marriage,’ and that has been my view. But, if people are looking for someone who will discriminate against gays or will in any way suggest that people who have different sexual orientation don’t have full rights in this country, they won’t find that in me.”
In recent days, reports surfaced that Romney and/or his campaign may have made some effort to woo gay Republicans through a 15-minute unpublicized, closed-door meeting this month. Log Cabin Republican leader R. Clarke Cooper did not respond to inquiries from Keen News, but told the Washington Blade that the Romney campaign initiated a meeting with him and former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, who is gay. Kolbe told the Blade that Romney said he opposes discrimination in the workplace but that he did not endorse ENDA. Cooper told the Blade the Romney administration would “work on desirable outcomes for workplace non-discrimination.”
Both Log Cabin Republicans and the gay conservative group GOProud announced their endorsements for Romney last week. GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia pointed to a Harris Interactive poll in August that compared 1,190 self-identified LGBT voters against a similar number of “residents from the general population,” with both groups identifying as registered and likely to vote in November. Asked to identify the most important issue for deciding whom to support as president, 37 percent of the general population and 32 percent of the LGBT population said either the economy or jobs. In both groups, 12 percent cited health care. Not surprisingly, nine percent of the LGBT group and only one percent of the general population group identified “gay rights in general” as their most important issue. Six percent of the LGBT group and one percent of the general group said same-sex marriage.
Asked for whom they would vote, 67 percent of the LGBT group said Obama, 23 percent said Romney, three percent said the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, three percent said others, and three percent said not sure. The results were similar to LGBT votes for candidates in 2010 when between 26 percent and 29 percent of LGBT voters supported Republican candidates. Looking at data going back to 1990, the lowest gay vote for Republicans came in 2008, when only 19 percent of gay voters supported then Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
The national board of the Log Cabin Republicans issued a “qualified endorsement” of Romney October 23, saying it thinks Romney will “move the ball forward” on gay issues “compared to past Republican presidents.”
“If LGBT issues are a voter’s highest or only priority, then Governor Romney may not be that voter’s choice,” said the Log Cabin’s endorsement statement. “However, Log Cabin Republicans is an organization representing multifaceted individuals with diverse priorities. Having closely reviewed the candidate’s history and observed the campaign, we believe Governor Romney will make cutting spending and job creation his priorities, and, as his record as Governor of Massachusetts suggests, will not waste his precious time in office with legislative attacks on LGBT Americans.”
How LGBT people vote in this presidential election won’t be known until a few days after the election, through analysis of exit poll data and specific precinct results in heavily gay neighborhoods. So the numbers to watch on election night are simple: the popular votes of individual states and the electoral votes nationwide.
As of Monday, fivethirtyeight.com was showing President Obama likely to win 243 electoral votes to Romney’s 206, with 89 electoral votes largely uncertain. Realclearpolitics.com, shows a much closer contest, with Obama with 201, Romney with 191, and 146 in the toss-up pile.
The toss-up states holding those 146 electoral votes are Florida (29), Pennsylvania (20), Ohio (18), Michigan (16), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13), Wisconsin (10), Colorado (9), Iowa and Nevada (6 each), and New Hampshire (4). (For the fivethirtyeight, take away Pennsylvania and Michigan, which are said to be leaning Obama.)
Ninety-nine of those 146 toss-up electoral votes will be decided by 8 p.m. Eastern time on November 6, when polls in most Eastern states close. Another 32 will be decided by 9 p.m., when polls close in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan. Colorado’s nine will be done by 10 p.m. and Nevada’s six by 11 p.m.