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GOP voters embrace same-sex marriage backer
by Matthew S. Bajko
Among GOP voters Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell, a former South Bay congressman, finds himself in a dead heat against his opponent Carly Fiorina , the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, according to the latest poll in the race.
Last week's Public Policy Institute of California poll found that Campbell had 23 percent support among likely Republican voters, one point shy of Fiorina, who had 24 percent support. A third candidate in the race, conservative state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, had 8 percent support.
His neck-and-neck tie with Fiorina is all the more remarkable considering Campbell supports marriage equality and was a vocal opponent against Proposition 8, the measure voters passed in 2008 that overturned the California Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. Should he be nominated by GOP voters in the June 8 primary, it would mark the first time that Republicans have backed a pro-same-sex marriage candidate who is truly competitive in a statewide race.
Campbell is expected to soon receive the endorsement of Log Cabin, the gay Republican group. And if he does win his party's primary, he could have a moderating effect on the California Republican Party's platform, which currently defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Log Cabin is looking to strip that language from the platform next year and would likely have a strong ally for doing so in Campbell.
"Opinions are changing. It is becoming more of a generational than a partisan split in a lot of ways. I think most people agree it is really a matter not of if it is going to happen but when," same-sex marriage becomes legal, said Dan Brown, president of the Log Cabin chapter in San Francisco. "The party has to adjust, change, grow, and evolve in order to stay relevant in a changing political climate."
Nor is it just Campbell helping to swing his party away from holding anti-gay stances. Up and down the Republican Party's ticket in statewide races this year are candidates who have fairly moderate to exemplary support in terms of LGBT issues.
In the attorney general race, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, a marriage equality backer, is doing well in his party's primary. And while she stops short of backing same-sex marriage, leading GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman , the former eBay chief executive, does support civil unions and gay adoptions.
"We right now have a good slate of candidates who are not toxic to marriage equality," said Log Cabin spokesman Charles Moran . "That is a huge shift if you look over the last 10, 12 years in terms of Republican nominees for statewide office."
Moran said he feels it does signal a shift in where California's GOP is moving. Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger several years ago broke the record for signing pro-gay legislation, and despite vetoing marriage equality bills, does personally support allowing gays and lesbians to wed and has asked the federal courts to strike down Prop 8.
"It could be a real earth-shattering election for Republicans if they nominate the right people for the party," Moran said. "The Republican Party of California could really take a turn for the better and not be using gay issues as a litmus test to determine who the party nominee is going to be."
The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage is working hard, however, to ensure that does not happen. It has been running television ads, called "Two Peas in a Pod," to highlight how similar Campbell is to the incumbent, liberal Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. Last week the group released a poll they claim shows that only 2 percent of Campbell's current supporters "correctly identify his pro-gay marriage position."
Furthermore, the anti-gay group contends its poll found that "the vast majority" of GOP primary voters do not know that Campbell, like Boxer, supports marriage equality and opposed Prop 8. The firm QEV Analytics conducted the poll of 500 likely GOP primary voters March 12-15.
The anti-gay group claims its polling shows that by a three to one margin, Campbell supporters and undecideds are less likely to vote for him once they learn he opposed Prop 8.
"The Two Peas in the Pod launch is just the beginning," stated Brian Brown, the group's executive director, in a press release issued last week. "Voters want politicians with the courage to stand for their values, not the values of San Francisco. We know that Californians, especially GOP primary voters, are going to be asking who will be on their side for the tough fights ahead. As ordinary Californians were standing tall for marriage in the face of enormous pressures, harassment and name-calling during the Prop 8 battle, Tom Campbell was nowhere to be found. Or rather, he was to be found standing hand-in-hand with Barbara Boxer."
Campbell's campaign did not respond to the Bay Area Reporter's request for comment by deadline Friday.
Campbell campaign spokesman James Fisfis told the Associated Press earlier in March that Campbell has made no secret that he opposed Proposition 8.
According to the AP, both Fiorina and DeVore believe marriage should be between a man and a woman. Fisfis told the AP that most voters, however, are more concerned about the country's high unemployment and ballooning federal deficits than same-sex marriage.
"Those are the focal points, and that's what we're campaigning on," he was quoted as saying. "He's running for the U.S. Senate specifically to tackle the economic and financial issues facing the country."
It is unclear if the ads from the anti-gay group have eaten away at Campbell's support. The commercials started airing March 15, toward the end of the two-week period in early March when the PPIC conducted its poll.
But there is reason for Campbell's campaign not to be too concerned about NOM's attacks. The anti-gay group's own poll found that 11 percent of Campbell supporters and undecided voters said that knowing Campbell opposed Prop 8 would made it more likely they would vote for him.
And despite the poll's focus on Campbell's stance against Prop 8, he still came out on top against his two opponents. Overall, the NOM poll found that 25 percent of likely GOP primary voters currently support Campbell versus 21 percent for Fiorina, and 7 percent for DeVore. Undecideds remained at 39 percent.
"I really don't think most of the voters in California are one-issue voters, and that is what the National Organization of Marriage is trying to imply. But that is not the most important issue for people. Even in the straw poll taken at CPAC, marriage came in very low," said Log Cabin's Brown, referring to a recent conservative convention. "People are much more concerned with health care, the economy and national defense. On all those issues Tom is much more experienced than some of the other people running."
In addition, the PPIC poll found that 50 percent of all Californians back marriage equality, the highest percentage since it started asking about same-sex marriage in 2000. And opposition has dropped by 6 points among Republicans, though 67 percent do not favor marriage equality.
The strong support for Campbell by GOP voters and the majority backing for marriage rights by Golden State residents, taken together, could point to a turning point, contend LGBT activists.
"I think the threats used to frighten people to pass Prop 8 may no longer hold water. I think Californians are recognizing equal marriage rights are good for all families, especially for those same-sex couples with children," said Sean Bohac, state advisory panel chair for Restore Equality 2010, which is trying to repeal Prop 8 this fall.
When asked about Campbell's poll numbers, Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors said it is a sign that even among Republicans same-sex marriage does not hold the same sway over voters as it did two to six years ago.
"I think we have seen with all voters, other than the core people on both sides, the vast majority of voters rank a candidate's position on marriage equality the least important issue as they vote," Kors said.
[According to EQCA, Campbell is the only GOP candidate to answer its questionnaire. So far the gay rights group has declined the B.A.R. 's requests to see a copy of his responses.]
In fact, if anyone should be worried, it is Boxer. She faces a hard re-election fight whether GOP voters opt for Fiorina or Campbell.
The PPIC poll found that in a hypothetical match-up, Campbell is deadlocked against Boxer, with 43 percent of likely voters backing the GOPer and 44 percent favoring Boxer. Thirteen percent said they were undecided. The numbers were identical when voters were asked about a Boxer versus Fiorina race in the fall general election.
Campbell polls incredibly well among independents and men. According to the PPIC poll, a plurality of independent voters support Campbell, with 48 percent backing the former Stanford Law School professor. Boxer garnered 32 percent while 20 percent were undecided.
The poll found that since January, Boxer's support among independents had dropped by 10 points, and Campbell's had increased by 11 points. A majority of women support Boxer, 50 percent versus 38 percent go for Campbell; while 51 percent of men back Campbell with 36 percent who favor Boxer.
The PPIC poll results are based on surveys done with 410 Republican primary likely voters, with a sampling error of plus or minus 5 percent. For results based on all of the 1,102 likely voters, the sampling error is plus or minus 3 percent.
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