Thursday, June 23, 2011

Obama treading carefully on gay issues in 2012 bid

via Reyters, By Mark Egan

Gay leaders will likely give Obama high marks at a fundraiser in New York on Today for pushing through issues like winning gays the right to serve openly in the military.

Yet calls for the White House to back gay marriage and strengthen federal anti-discrimination protection will probably go unheeded as Obama treads carefully in the run-up to next November's election.

"The conundrum Obama faces is keeping this essential core constituency while not going overboard and alienating the high-intensity opponents of that constituency," said pollster John Zogby of IBOPE Zogby International. "His challenge is to continue to play it cool and not to go overboard."

Independent voters, seen as less likely to back gay causes, will be crucial in winning closely contested states such as Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Indiana and Wisconsin.

With the economy in trouble, the election is shaping up as a tighter race for Obama than his 2008 victory and he must keep key voting groups on board.

Evangelicals mostly vote Republican, but Obama took 30 percent of their votes in 2008 and he cannot afford to lose them, Zogby said. African Americans voted 95 percent for Obama in 2008 and heavily oppose gay marriage, he said.

Among Latinos, which Obama won in 2008, 40 percent call themselves social conservatives.

By contrast, the gay vote is small although influential. A CNN exit poll from 2008 showed 4 percent of voters were gay, lesbian or bisexual and 70 percent of them voted for Obama. Another reckoning puts gays at 7 percent of voters.

Boston University political science department chair Professor Graham Wilson said Obama will want to keep his gay constituencies sweet because they have high incomes, making them a potentially strong fundraising group.

"So long as Obama maintains his reasonably OK record on gay issues and Republicans continue to be identified with fairly aggressive anti-gay sentiments, there is not much doubt as to where the gay vote goes," Wilson said.

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