Last week, Barack Obama came out and publicly endorsed gay marriage, a move that many saw as a huge political gamble. Many on the left have worried that the announcement will help fire up socially conservative voters who have been less than enthusiastic about the previously pro-choice Romney, while also alienating black voters, who continue to strongly oppose same-sex marriage. One day before Obama came out of the closet on gay marriage, voters in the key swing state of North Carolina passed a referendum banning same-sex marriage by an overwhelming 61 to 39 percent margin, highlighting the riskiness of Obama’s recent endorsement.
Exit polls showed that in 2008, Obama won more than 95 percent of the black vote, and even more importantly, encouraged a record number of black voters to turn out to vote. Similarly, it was that huge voter turnout that won North Carolina for Obama by a slim 1 percent margin in 2008, a state that hadn’t been carried by a Democratic presidential candidate since 1976. Some fear that Obama’s marriage endorsement could keep many black Christian voters away from the ballot box in 2012, a scenario that would likely hand North Carolina back to the Republicans and Romney.
But these liberal worrywarts are underestimating the amount of political calculations that go into decisions such as these. In a way, Obama’s support of same-sex marriage is very similar to McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as running mate: a political gamble that was just one power-ball away from a huge payoff.
In terms of money, Obama blew McCain out of the water in 2008 with the best-financed political campaign in history. The McCain camp knew what they were up against and knew that they needed to go all in if they were going to compete. Their Sarah Palin gamble initially paid off and the donations from social conservative donors began to flood in as McCain started to rise in the polls. While Palin’s nervous breakdowns and nauseating interviews started to become political liabilities for McCain later in his campaign, it was the stock market crash that finally guaranteed Obama’s victory. Like Palin was for McCain, Obama’s marriage announcement has had an immediate impact on fundraising.
According to the Washington Post, one in six of Obama’s top fundraisers (people who have contributed at least $500,000) is openly gay. The Post reports that many gay donors had threatened to withhold contributions unless the president affirmed publicly what everyone has suspected privately for some time. Obama finally made that public announcement Wednesday, announcing his personal support for same-sex marriage. By Thursday morning, the president’s re-election coffers were $15 million deeper.
Fortunately for Obama, his same-sex marriage announcement can’t have nervous breakdowns or be torched by Katie Couric on national television. Furthermore, the timing of Obama’s announcement shows that the campaign has its damage control strategies locked down much better than McCain did in ‘08.
The day after Obama’s announcement, the Washington Post came out with a five-page article on Mitt Romney and his time at the prestigious Cranbrook High School in Michigan. In the piece, entitled “Mitt Romney’s prep school classmates recall pranks, but also troubling incidents,” Jason Horowitz revealed testimonies of former classmates, who described how Romney once led a mob to pin down and cut off a closeted student’s flamboyant, bleached hair.
“They came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.”
The Obama campaign claims that they did not coordinate with the Washington Post on the timing of the article. However, the Romney piece had been months in the making, and I would not be at all surprised if somebody within the Obama campaign had caught wind of the piece and realized its potential political value.
By coordinating Obama’s same-sex marriage announcement with the Post piece, the president’s campaign was able to minimize the damage it might have suffered from a Romney counter-attack. Instead of being given an opportunity to attack Obama for his position change on same-sex marriage, Romney was forced to spend the next few days awkwardly defending his 18-year-old self, pretending to have no recollection of “Mitt the Barber” and apologizing for any hypothetical pranks that might have gone too far.
Last week, the Obama campaign took a gamble that has already seen $15 million in payoffs. That is $15 million that can help ensure that all those voters in North Carolina who may have been put off by the president’s announcement will eventually see the bigger picture and turn out at the same rate they did in 2008.
Riley Schenck thinks “Mitt the Barber” should know better than to run with scissors.
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