How the Democratic candidates differ: longevity, courage, and electability

It’s showtime for the candidates seeking the 2016 Democratic nomination for president. The field’s first nationally televised debate is slated for 8:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, October 13, on CNN, with moderator Anderson Cooper.

The big question for everyone –including LGBT voters—is whether Vice President Joe Biden will decide to run for the nomination. CNN has said it would put him onstage even if he decides as late as debate day itself that he’s in the race.

But Biden has little to gain by rushing his decision, and he’s got some breathing room. Federal law requires he file a statement of candidacy only after he’s raised his first $5,000 toward a campaign. And each state sets its own deadline for when a candidate must file to be on the ballot of a primary or caucus. that first deadline (for Alabama) isn’t until November 6.

Without Biden in the picture, the real contest for this first debate is between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. The other three candidates on the stage –former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, and former U.S. Senator from Virginia Jim Webb – are polling at only one or two percent at best. Any of them could do well and rise quickly, but most of the attention will likely stay on Clinton and Sanders, who are polling at 42 and 11 percent, respectively, in the latest poll.

A sixth announced candidate, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig, has not been included in the CNN debate because he has not achieved the minimum one percent level of support in the past three polls. Most polls don’t include him on the list of candidates.

Below is a snapshot of each announced candidate and Biden and where they stand on various issues, following closely with issues used to profile the Republican field in earlier articles. There is no report on how the Democrats responded to the National Organization for Marriage Pledge; a spokesperson for the organization said NOM did not poll the Democratic presidential candidates because “Their positions in support of SSM were well-known.”

“Current odds of winning the nomination” are based on odds calculated by as of October 7.

Hillary Clinton                       

Current odds of winning the nomination: 69 percent

Occupational experience: Former Secretary of State, former U.S. Senator from New York, and former legal counsel to U.S. House Judiciary Committee during Watergate scandal

Age: 67

Main assets: Served four years experience as Secretary of State and “watched up close and personal” as her husband, President Bill Clinton, navigated many difficult issues. LGBT voters have a strong desire to see another discriminatory cultural barrier bite the dust, with the election of a first woman president. And Clinton has close ties to top people at the Human Rights Campaign, which can muster money and votes, and popular former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank.

Main liabilities: Her responses to questions about use of a private server at home for communication involving State business. As she tried out a variety of responses to questions, her favorability rating sank into the negative zone, and she’s still trying to recover. Among LGBT voters, some complain that she took too long to support marriage equality.

Response to Obergefell: Issued statement, saying the ruling was “an affirmation of the commitment of couples” and “reflects the will of the vast and growing multitude of Americans who believe that LGBT couples deserve to be recognized under the law and treated equally in the eyes of society.”

LGBT Record: Earned a 94 score from the Human Rights Campaign during her last Congressional session as senator; earned 89 and 88 in previous sessions. Clinton evolved over a period of 10 years to support marriage equality, saying, in 2004, that it was “a sacred bond between a man and a woman,” then saying in 2007 that she supported repeal of the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that said marriage could only mean a “man and a woman.” But in 2007, Clinton also wanted to leave the marriage equality issue to the states. Then, in a 2013 video after leaving her Secretary of State post, Clinton said she has “learned” and “come to believe” that LGBT Americans “deserve the rights of citizenship –that includes marriage….I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law.”

Kim Davis: Issued Twitter message saying, “Marriage equality is the law of the land. Officials should be held to their duty to uphold the law.” As recently as this week, Clinton said she thinks a federal district court judge did the right thing by putting Davis in jail for contempt of court, adding: “People are totally entitled to their private, personal beliefs, religious or otherwise, but when you take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, that is your job.”

Planned Parenthood: Urged support for Planned Parenthood in the face of Republican efforts to defund the group.

Equality Act: Supports it, saying it will mean “full federal equality for LGBT Americans and stronger anti-discrimination protections for everyone.”

Campaign inclusiveness: Website includes “LGBT equality” among 23 issues. Includes a two-minute video showing numerous same-sex couples at their individual wedding and engagement events. States that she “championed” hate crime legislation, “fought for” federal non-discrimination legislation, “advanced” LGBT rights abroad, and declared “on the global stage that ‘gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.’” Her campaign launch video also included gay citizens prominently. Her campaign manager is an openly gay man, Robby Mook, a former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And her campaign just recently hired an openly gay man to serve as liaison to the LGBT community.

Joe Biden

Current odds of winning the nomination: 18 percent

Occupational experience: Vice president for two terms, six terms as U.S. senator from Delaware, three-time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations, Committee, eight years as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee

Age: 72

Main assets: Significant familiarity with how the White House and Congress work. Among LGBT voters, he’s widely credited with giving the White House a push toward supporting marriage equality.

Main liabilities: He’s run for the Democratic nomination twice before and failed to gain much traction. Among LGBT voters, he’s well liked but seems to play second fiddle to Clinton.

Response to Obergefell: Issued a statement, supporting the decision and praising the “courage” of LGBT advocates over the years who “risked their lives, jobs, and reputations to come forward in pursuit of the basic right recognized today….”

LGBT Record: Voted to enact the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996

Kim Davis: No statement found

Planned Parenthood: Supports right of women to have abortion

Equality Act: Supports “federal non-discrimination legislation”

Campaign inclusiveness: Biden has not announced his intention to run for the Democratic nomination for president this year. He has indicated he is contemplating it, but some believe the recent death of his son Beau may lead him to decide against a run. He has made speeches at numerous Human Rights Campaign events over the years. In December in Los Angeles last year, he told an HRC audience: “as long as I have a breath in me, I will not be satisfied till everyone in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community is afforded the dignity, the freedom and the equality that my father spoke so clearly of because that’s the only way.”

Bernie Sanders

Current odds of winning the nomination: 11 percent

Occupational experience: U.S. Senator from Vermont, former member of the U.S. House, and former mayor

Age: 74

Main assets: Blunt critic of giving tax breaks to corporations. For LGBT voters, he’s the candidate who has supported equal rights for LGBT people longer than anyone else in the field.

Main liabilities: He would be 76 when taking the oath for one of the most arduous jobs in the world, he is frequently described as a socialist, and many, including many in the LGBT community, fear he’s too progressive to win the general election.

Response to Obergefell: Issued statement, saying the decision was a victory for “all those seeking to live in a nation where every citizens is afforded equal rights.”

LGBT Record: Sanders was an LGBT supporter long before it became politically safe to be so. As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he signed a city ordinance banning discrimination and he supported the city’s first ever Pride Parade. He earned a perfect 100 score from Human Rights Campaign on his record of voting on LGBT-related issues in each of six Congressional sessions. Co-sponsored all versions of the Equality Act (previously known as ENDA) as well as the Student Non-Discrimination Act, and the Respect for Marriage Act (which sought to repeal DOMA).

Kim Davis: No statement found.

Planned Parenthood: Says he “absolutely” supports Planned Parenthood and will defend its funding. He voted against proceeding to a vote on a bill that sought to immediately stop federal funds to the group. And he issued a statement, saying the effort to defund Planned Parenthood is an “attack on women’s health” and would jeopardize HIV testing. He has a 100 percent score from Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Equality Act: Co-sponsors the current version and has co-sponsored all previous versions.

Campaign inclusiveness: Campaign website added “Fighting for LGBT Equality” to its list of issues soon after gay commentator Michelangelo Signorile posted an essay saying Sanders “he must get ‘LGBT rights’ up on his website”. The new addition to the site promises Sanders will “Veto any legislation that purports to ‘protect’ religious liberty at the expense of others’ rights.” But in July, Sanders said he would not endorse removing tax-exempt status from religious groups that refuse to recognize same-sex marriages.

Jim Webb

Current odds of winning the nomination: Zero percent.

Occupational experience: Former U.S. Senator from Virginia

Age: 69

Main assets: Bookish Marine with two Purple Hearts who served as assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration

Main liabilities: During the controversy of the South Carolina capitol building flying the Confederate flag, Webb initially made statements that suggested he supported allowing the flag to stay and urged respect for its role in the “complicated history of the Civil War.”

Response to Obergefell: Posted a statement on Facebook, saying he was “pleased” with the decision and hope it leads to a “social environment where each of us can respect the private lives and personal decisions of others.”

LGBT Record: Earned an 88 rating from Human Rights Campaign for his record of voting on LGBT-related issues in one session, an 85 and 76 in two others. He opposed an anti-gay marriage ballot measure in Virginia while running for the Senate.

Kim Davis: No statement found.

Planned Parenthood: Planned Parenthood Action Fund rates Webb at 100 percent supportive.

Equality Act: He has made no comment about the current version of the bill but co-sponsored the previous incarnation, ENDA, which prohibited discrimination in employment

Campaign inclusiveness: None found

Martin O’Malley

Current odds of winning the nomination: Zero percent

Occupational experience: Former governor of Maryland

Age: 52

Main assets: He’s a former governor and a former mayor

Main liability: Lacks name recognition beyond Maryland

Response to Obergefell: Changed his campaign schedule to join celebration at Supreme Court following the decision.

LGBT Record: Introduced the bill for marriage equality to the Maryland legislature and was a key leader in pushing it through.

Kim Davis: No statement found.

Planned Parenthood: Does not support efforts to defund Planned Parenthood

Equality Act: Endorsed the bill

Campaign inclusiveness: No gay specifics on website

Lincoln Chafee

Current odds of winning the nomination: Zero percent

Occupational experience: Former U.S. Senator, former governor of Rhode Island, and former mayor

Age: 62

Main asset: Track record of working across party lines.

Main liability: Party changer: Was Republican in the U.S. Senate, independent as Rhode Island governor, and now running for president as a Democrat

Response to Obergefell: Posted Twitter message of support

LGBT Record: Earned an perfect 100 rating from Human Rights Campaign for his record of voting on LGBT-related issues in one session, an 85 and 76 in two others. He evolved quickly on same-sex marriage. In 2004, he opposed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, he supported only civil unions, and he said the marriage issue should be left to each state. But in 2013, he led the push for and signed into law the marriage equality bill that passed the Rhode Island legislature.

Kim Davis: No statement found

Planned Parenthood: The Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the Planned Parenthood Federation, said Chafee’s been a “supporter of women making their own personal medical decisions” who has “stood up for women’s health and rights, vetoing legislation that would violate the separation of church and state by funding an organization that works to limit a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion.”

Equality Act: No statement found

Campaign inclusiveness: No gay specifics on website.

Lawrence Lessig

Current odds of winning the nomination: Not calculated

Occupational experience: Harvard law professor

Age: 54

Main asset: Wrote book How Money Corrupts Congress

Main liability: One-issue candidate: Wants passage of a bill to reform campaign finance

Response to Obergefell: In a friend-of-the-court brief with other constitutional law professors, he argued the Supreme Court should apply heightened scrutiny to laws treating people differently because of their sexual orientation.

LGBT Record: Joined a friend-of-the-court brief in the Proposition 8 case arguing that laws treating people differently because of their sexual orientation should receive heightened scrutiny.

Kim Davis: No statement found

Planned Parenthood: No statement found.

Equality Act: He supports the “Citizen Equality Act,” legislation to reform campaign funding

Campaign inclusiveness: His website says his position on other issues is “not relevant.”


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