By Lisa Keen
Keen on the Trail
To watch or read most national discussions of the presidential horse race, Hillary Clinton is so many lengths ahead of the rest of her field, nobody can possibly catch her. But it’s keeping in mind that, in December 2003, some polls showed Howard Dean with a 32-point lead in New Hampshire over the eventual nominee John Kerry. With that in mind… the latest national poll of Democrats, conducted by Associated Press November 5-7, shows 45 percent support Clinton, 22 percent for Barack Obama, 12 percent for John Edwards, and low single digits for everybody else. Typically, the hype over who wins the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary has always contributed to field conditions, too. Polls in those states show a closer race: Clinton leads Obama by only six points in Iowa, with Edwards just four points behind Obama. In New Hampshire, Clinton has a 14-point edge.
FRANK ENDORSEMENT: U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of two openly gay members of Congress and the chief sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which passed this month, is endorsing Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Although he’s waited these many months of the long primary season to signal his support, Frank says, in a statement released November 13, “”I have from the beginning of this campaign believed that Hillary Clinton was the candidate best qualified to serve as President.” Among other reasons he cited for his endorsement, Frank says, “I am convinced that Hillary Clinton is the candidate best equipped to pass laws that will treat all Americans with dignity, fairness and equality no matter who they are or who they love.” Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) endorsed Clinton in August.
OBAMA SNUBBED? Just weeks after Hillary Clinton graced the cover of The Advocate’s 40th anniversary issue, the newsmagazine did an interview with Democratic rival Barack Obama. But rather than the cover, Obama landed only on the newsmagazine’s website. The interview’s still there -below a review of Britney Spears’ latest album. Was it a snub? Advocate News Editor Kerry Eleveld says no. The magazine asked for an interview months ago, but Obama said yes only after the controversy erupted over the inclusion of anti-gay singer Donnie McClurkin in the campaign’s gospel concert tour in South Carolina. The interview took place by phone and was limited, by the campaign, to 15 minutes, said Eleveld. There wasn’t time to go beyond the immediate controversy and the magazine felt it was important to get the interview out to readers as quickly as possible. So, it was posted on the magazine’s website October 30. And, she added, the magazine’s print version does not carry an interview which has already run online.
OBAMA SNUBS? Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has not responded to requests from this reporter and several large gay newspapers around the country for a sit-down interview on a wide range of LGBT-related topics. Campaign spokesperson Ben LaBolt pointed to The Advocate interview as evidence that the campaign is responsive to such requests, but he stopped short of saying whether a more comprehensive Q-and-A might be scheduled with any gay news publication in the future. Last week, the campaign did reach out to the National Gay Newspaper Guild, a coalition of the 12 largest gay newspapers in the country. It sent the papers an essay it said the senator wrote “addressing many of the issues that have come up over the past several weeks.” In it, Obama reiterates his position on a number of issues -that he would repeal the entire federal Defense of Marriage Act (Clinton would repeal only part), repeal the military’s “don’t ask/don’t tell policy,” and “use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same-sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws.” But he also reiterated that he believes “full equality” can be achieved without marriage licenses. And, while he says his administration would support a “fully inclusive” Employment Non-Discrimination Act, he does not specify how he would vote if a sexual orientation-only version comes before him in the Senate next year.
OBAMA BOLDNESS: In his essay, Senator Obama also asserts, “We will not secure full equality for all LGBT Americans until we learn how to address that deep disagreement [about including LGBT people as “full members of our shared community”] and move beyond it. To achieve that goal, we must state our beliefs boldly,” he wrote, “bring the message of equality to audiences that have not yet accepted it, and listen to what those audiences have to say in return.” Obama spoke to one of those audiences that have not yet accepted it. Obama granted a sit-down Q & A November 11 with David Brody of CBN News, an affiliate of television evangelical Pat Robertson. Brody asked him about his positions on abortion and gay marriage. Obama called the issues “profoundly difficult” and said they are “ones I grapple with.” On gay marriage, he said “My belief is that, as a public official, my role is to make sure that everybody is treated fairly, and everybody has equal rights. And I know that, sometimes in this debate, there’s talk about, ‘Well, we don’t mind giving gays and lesbians equal rights, but not special rights.’ Well, the fact is, right now, many gay couples, for example, can’t visit each other in the hospital. And, when I sit down and read scripture, and I think, ‘How would Jesus feel about somebody not being able to visit somebody they love when they’re sick,’ I conclude that that is something that is important. And certainly as a public official, it’s important for me to make sure that those basic rights, that basic equality is available.” To gauge the boldness of the delivery, go to www.cbn.com/CBNnews/266144.aspx.
GO CRIMSON! A student at Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire nailed Republican nominee Mike Huckabee with a tough question this month. Saying he understood the candidate is against gay marriage, he asked, what he would do if the majority of Americans disagreed with him. Huckabee, citing a time in this country when slavery was permissible, said the majority doesn’t always make the right decision. “Politicians need to express what they believe is right, take a stand, and pay the consequences….I’m going to take a stand that I believe is not only the right one but I believe is in the best interests of the country….If I get beat, then I get beat.”
OBAMA CONFRONTED: Media attention to the controversy over Senator Barack Obama’s gospel concert tour has died down, but audience members confronted him in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last week. According to the Politico website, Obama was asked about the matter during an MTV-MySpace event that was broadcast live and, later, at a different event. At that latter event, the mother of a gay man who hopes to get married asked the candidate what he could do to help. “You want the word marriage and I believe that the issue of marriage has become so entangled — the word marriage has become so entangled with religion — that it makes more sense for me as president, with that authority, to talk about the civil rights that are conferred” with civil unions.
MEET THE QUESTION: The question came up again during Obama’s appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press November 12. Moderator Tim Russert noted that U.S. Rep. John Lewis, whom Obama has referred to as a saint, said this about opposition to same-sex marriage: “I’ve heard reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distortions and they stink of the same fear, hatred and intolerance I’ve known in racism and in bigotry. Some say let’s choose another route and give gay folks some legal rights, but call it something other than marriage. We’ve been down that road before in this country. Separate is not equal. The rights of liberty and happiness belong to each of us and on the same terms without regard to either skin color or sexual orientation.” Knowing full well that Obama is one of those who has argued for that separate but equal position on same-sex marriage, Russert asked him whether he agrees with Lewis. Obama reiterated his position: “I have not said that I was a supporter of gay marriage, but I am a strong supporter of civil unions, and I would, as president, make absolutely certain that all federal laws pertaining to married couples –benefits pertaining to married couples are conferred to people who–same sex couples who have civil unions as well.” The question one might like to ask in follow-up is what, exactly, a president can do to make that “absolutely certain.”
ROBERTSON’S PAT: Right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson gave Rudy Giuliani the metaphorical pat on the back November 7 for the Republican presidential nomination. Robertson has a long record of hostility to gay civil rights. In 1998, he blamed support for gays for devastating earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist bombings, and even meteor strikes. In 2003, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws, he launched a nationally televised prayer campaign on his 700 Club cable program to ask God to remove three justices from the bench. Robertson represents Giuliani’s first major right-wing evangelical endorsement. Meanwhile, other right-wing conservatives with anti-gay credentials have scattered elsewhere. Paul Weyrich endorsed Mitt Romney. Gary Bauer endorsed Fred Thompson. Don Wildmon is behind Mike Huckabee. And former presidential candidate Sam Brownback is now backing John McCain.
ROMNEY ROILS: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has been touting his opposition to gay marriage even before he became a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. Nowadays, he makes prominent mention of it every chance he gets and, lately, he’s been trying to make the point that he’s more opposed to it than any other Republican candidate. In remarks before a small liberal arts college in Iowa recently, he boasted that he was the only candidate among the four “nationally leading” Republicans to support amending the federal constitution to ban gay marriage. Depending on how one interprets what the candidates have said and which poll one chooses to reference, there are some degrees of separation between that statement and the truth. Just two weeks ago, the head of one right-wing group told reporters that New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told him he, Giuliani, would support a constitutional amendment. Giuliani later amended that to say he would support one if “a lot of states” start recognizing same-sex marriage. Fred Thompson said he’d support an amendment, but his variation would be that the amendment would prevent judges from recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. And, of course, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee supports a constitutional amendment. Romney’s exclusion of Huckabee from the “top four” Republican candidates is almost a distinction without a difference. The most recent Pew Foundation poll showed Romney in fourth place with 9 percent of the vote and Huckabee in fifth with 8. What Romney might have a harder time re-characterizing is the reaction of the Luther College audience in Decorah November 1. The crowd booed and hissed when he touted his opposition to gay marriage. And, according to the Rocky Mountain News, that reaction was tame compared to an even more “pointed” rebuke at the University of Denver last month.
ROMNEY OOPS: The New York Times reported this month that Mitt Romney’s campaign did, for a few days in August, accidentally place Romney for president ads on a gay website. The Times said the ads were placed on Gay.com unintentionally through a service that places web advertising on a large number of sites.
McCAIN MAN CONVICTED: The co-chair -or, rather, the former co-chair of John McCain’s Florida campaign was convicted this month on charges of soliciting sex for money in a public park men’s room.
CLINTON’s G-MOMENT: More than any other presidential candidate, Barack Obama has been known to use the words “gay” and “lesbian” in speeches before campaign audiences that are not just gay and lesbian. Hillary Clinton recently did so: On November 11, in speaking to more than 9,000 people gathered for an important Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa, Clinton said that Democrats “believe in labor rights, women’s rights, gay rights and civil rights.”
TIME TO ASK: CNN and YouTube are taking video-questions now through November 25, to be among those directed to the Republican presidential candidates in their CNN-YouTube presidential forum November 28. One gay marriage question was used during the Democratic forum earlier this year, and so far, quite a few are posing gay marriage questions to the Republicans, too. One man, from Virginia, asks Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani what advice they’d give to their son or daughter if the child came to them and said they were gay. To submit a question, go to http://www.youtube.com/republicandebate.