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January 11, 2008

Gay issues are part of the New Hampshire primary atmosphere

From anonymous phone calls and flyers to public speeches and debates on the editorial pages of newspapers, gay issues were heavily in the news as New Hampshire held the nation’s first primary of the 2008 presidential campaign Tuesday. John McCain took the Republican lead, but the big news of the day was Democrats taking 55 percent of the record turnout and the surprise victory of Democrat Hillary Clinton, whom pundits had widely predicted was flailing.

Openly gay State Rep. Jim Splaine said Clinton “did something in the last two to three days I have been urging her to do–let Hillary be Hillary.”

While Splaine supported Clinton, the state’s other two openly gay representatives were split to the other two top polling candidates. Ed Butler supported Barack Obama; Mo Baxley supported John Edwards.

That division appeared to be true for gays in both Iowa and New Hampshire. But, Clinton has enjoyed the lion’s share of big name gay endorsements–from Reps. Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin to filmmaker Bruce Cohen, tennis legend Billie Jean King, Illinois Human Rights Director Rocco Claps, and California State Senator Sheila Kuehl.

Her victory over Iowa winner Obama was especially big news Tuesday night because polls had piled up to predict that New Hampshire would be a repeat of her January 3 third place finish behind John Edwards. But large numbers of voters were undecided right down to the wire and apparently many of them –especially women—cast their ballot for Clinton.

She earned this victory. I am thrilled for her. And she will make a great president, said Hilary Rosen, a long-time gay Democratic activist and Clinton supporter.

Clinton won 39 percent of the votes for Democrats in the primary, followed by Obama with 36 percent, Edwards with 17 percent, Bill Richardson with 5 percent, and 3 percent to others, including 1 percent to Dennis Kucinich.

In Republican voting, McCain topped the field with 37 percent, followed by Mitt Romney with 32 percent, Mike Huckabee with 11 percent, Rudy Giuliani with 9 percent, Ron Paul with 8 percent, and 3 percent to others.

Obama was the only candidate to speak positively of gay people during the last days of campaigning in New Hampshire. At a rally in Manchester on Monday night, he said, as president, he would represent a number of constituency groups, including gays and lesbians. Although he has used the constituency line frequently in his speeches, he does not always include the reference to gays and lesbians.

Gays were used in some negative campaigning, too. The Concord Monitor reported Tuesday that the Romney campaign said many of its supporters received phone calls on primary day telling them that Romney supports same-sex marriage and gays being allowed in the Boy Scouts. According to the campaign, the callers claimed to be from the Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay GOP organization, and claimed that the group was endorsing Romney.

A Romney spokesperson called the calls “completely false.”

Log Cabin has not endorsed Romney and, in fact, has aired radio and television ads opposing only him among the Republican candidates. Its ad in New Hampshire focused on his positions concerning taxes. Log Cabin national president Patrick Sammon said the group “had nothing to do” with the phone calls.

Romney is a well-known opponent of same-sex marriage, as are all the Republican candidates. Although the Romney campaign said the claims were false, he did, in fact, say, in 1994, “I support the right of the Boy Scouts of America to decide what it wants to do on that issue. I feel that all people should be allowed to participate in the Boy Scouts regardless of their sexual orientation.” Romney was on the Boy Scouts’ national executive board at the time.

The claim about Romney supporting gays in the Boy Scouts also showed up on a flyer that was distributed last Sunday in the parking lot of a Catholic church in Manchester, according to the Monitor. The website said the flyer indicated it was “prepared by a concerned citizen” and was used to compare Romney unfavorably to McCain. The McCain campaign said it had nothing to do with the flyer.

The Human Rights Campaign was also involved in the Granite State, opening a field office in Manchester and hiring a full-time staffer to help mobilize LGBT voters.

Although none of the exit polls sought to gauge voters’ feelings about gay issues specifically, a Concord Monitor survey of young voters the weekend before the primary found “gay marriage” on the list of issues which concerned them.

Civil unions were heavily in the news in New Hampshire as national attention was shifting there from the Iowa caucuses January 3. Just two days earlier, the state’s new civil unions law had gone into effect and front page photos of gay couples kissing and stories of their obtaining the first civil union licenses were showing up in papers around the state. Editorial pages were full of letters to the editor commenting on the news.

 

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