By Lisa Keen
More than any other presidential candidate before, Barack Obama included gays as part of his core speeches to voters, despite decades of conventional wisdom that has held that the mere acknowledgement of gays could imperil a campaign. Obama acknowledged gays when he announced his run for the presidency. He did so before national television audiences and before church audiences that were considered by some to be reluctant to associate with gays. He did so in accepting the Democratic nomination in Colorado, and he did so in his final campaign stops in Jacksonville, Fla.; Columbus, Ohio; and Raleigh, N.C.
And he still won.
With a message that included gay people both when he needed the votes and when he had cinched victory, U.S. Senator Barack Obama won the White House Tuesday night. The triumph not only marked an historic moment in American history with his election as the first African-American president, but also a dramatic improvement in the political climate in Washington, D.C., for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
In the third line of his speech before more than 100,000 people gathered in Grant Park in his adopted hometown of Chicago, Ill. Obama said his election is testament to the power of democracy “spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled.”
Winning 338 electoral votes to Republican John McCain’s 161, Obama did not require the support of gays to secure his win. However, voting appears to have been very close in some states that were important to his success. In Florida, where a typical distribution of the gay vote would have provided the Democrat with about 275,000 votes, Obama won by only 199,000 votes. And while the Sunshine State overall gave Obama 51 percent of the vote, heavily gay Miami-Dade – home of gay popular resort South Beach – gave him 58 percent.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese characterized Obama’s win Tuesday night as a “paradigm shift” for LGBT people. “The pendulum has swung away from the anti-gay forces that dominated the political landscape for too long and toward new leadership that acknowledges our equality,” he said.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called Obama’s election “the dawn of a new political era of hope” that “brings a promise for a sea change in the tenor of the national dialogue on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.”
The voting results reported this week are definitive but not official. They are based on a combination of data – surveys collected from voters at the polls on Nov. 4, actual results from selected precincts and surveys conducted by phone prior to Tuesday.
The data was gathered on behalf of the National Election Pool, a coalition of ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, NBC and the Associated Press. The polling firm of Edison Media Research collected the data at 1,300 precincts around the country, involving every state; but, more sampling was done in the most competitive states. While most of the data was gathered at polling places, some was gathered by phone to include samples from Washington and Oregon – which vote exclusively by mail – and to account for people who were able to cast their votes before Nov. 4. The telephone surveys collected data only from landlines, but the exit polls gathered information about cell phones from exit poll voters to use in assessing their projections.