Obama, Romney Unlikely to Engage in Gay-Marriage Ad Battle

Dems Get Fundraising Bump, Super PACs Might Fight, but Eyes Are on Economy

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While pundits debate whether President Barack Obama's declared support for same-sex marriage will cost him key swing states that have high concentrations of evangelical Christian voters, Democratic coffers are getting an infusion.

"Practically every LGBT person I talk to wants to write out a check, even people who never wrote checks to any political candidates in their lives," said Steven Goldstein, chair of New Jersey gay-rights organization Garden State Equality.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed reported the president's campaign received a flood of contributions totaling $1 million in the first 90 minutes after the news broke last Wednesday.

But even if the issue pumps more money into the race, don't expect an ad battle over same-sex marriage.

Republican media strategist Rick Wilson said his team recently completed a survey of likely voters in 10 swing states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida, and same-sex marriage didn't crack 1% as a major concern in a single state.

"Any ad you're running this time that 's not about the economy is going to be wasted," said Mr. Wilson, who said that such "luxury" issues as the environment and gay rights tend to take on political significance only when the economy is thriving.

Of course, gay-rights issues also take on significance when the LGBT community is a major plank of the party. Mr. Obama and the Democrats are now probably eyeing donors who can write six- or seven-figure checks to super PACs, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Super PACs backing Republicans have raised hundreds of millions of dollars, so far outperforming their Democratic-leaning counterparts, Mr. Sabato said.

Mr. Obama already seems to be quietly making his pitch. When he told a group that had paid $40,000 a head to dine with him at George Clooney's house last week, "Obviously, yesterday we made some news," it reportedly drew the biggest applause of the evening.

The Obama campaign declined to comment.

"There's no doubt that President Obama was under extreme pressure from his donors to do this," said Brad Todd, a Republican media strategist with On Message Inc. He doesn't expect the news to have much of an impact on Republican fundraising, aside from small amounts generated by direct mail.

"Our base is quite hot to beat Obama anyway," Mr. Todd said. "I'm not sure there's anything he could do to make them more energized."

This campaign season could showcase more candidates making same-sex marriage crucial, however.

Dave Strohmaier, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Montana, recently released an online-video ad that depicts him presiding at the wedding of two women and announcing, "You know what? It sure does annoy Republicans."

According to Mr. Strohmaier's strategist, Bethesda, Md.-based Dane Strother, the spot was intended as a way to distinguish the candidate from the rest of the primary field, and it's going to be edited for TV.

A recent Gallup poll showed that half of Americans believe that same-sex marriage should be legal, up from 42% in 2004, when initiatives on the ballot in 11 states to ban same-sex marriage arguably swung the election in George W. Bush's favor.

Despite the increase, most states prohibit gay marriage. Voters in North Carolina, which will host the Democratic National Convention in September, just voted for a constitutional amendment to make it illegal.

Mr. Romney appears to be circling the issue. In an interview with Fox News last week, he reaffirmed his position that same-sex couples should be able to adopt children while maintaining his stance against same-sex marriage.

Based on the shift in voter sentiment, it's unlikely that the Romney campaign will make his opposition the focus of much advertising, according to Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who managed Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. But he added that super PACs are a wild card.

"The Romney campaign could think it's not in their best interest to use this issue, but it won't matter if there's a super PAC from the religious right that wants to use it," Mr. Trippi said.

Mr. Sabato at the University of Virginia suspects that the Romney campaign will avoid splashy TV and web-video spots that invite scrutiny, and run the risk of alienating young people and moderates. It may instead use display ads to target evangelicals—who have long been skeptical of the candidate's Mormonism and policy flip-flops—and remind them that Mr. Romney has their back on an issue of supreme importance to them.

"On the Republican side, this is made for direct mail and the internet," Mr. Sabato said.

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