PJ Media

Can McCain Crack the Gay Vote?

Back in February while discussing the housing market with a realtor active in the Los Angeles gay community, the conversation turned to politics. I learned that this friend who had helped raise money for Hillary Clinton’s White House bid intended to support John McCain should his candidate lose the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama.

At the time, I thought little of this exchange, assuming my friend’s opposition to his party’s then-frontrunner was an aberration, just one gay man who didn’t trust the junior senator from Illinois. But, about a month later, in an instant message conversation, a gay friend from New York who usually votes Democratic and then supported his own junior senator’s presidential campaign suggested he might vote for the Republican nominee this fall should Obama win the Democratic nomination.

He wouldn’t be the last. In the next month, I would talk to and overhear additional gay Democrats inclined to support John McCain in a fall match against Barack Obama. After an extended conversation with one such Democrat, I blogged on the topic, observing:

There seems to be a common theme among these Democrats (and at least one Democrat-leaning independent). They just don’t trust their party’s presidential frontrunner. One man said he lacked experience, another was concerned about his ties to shady characters. They didn’t think there was much substance behind his sizzle.

Soon thereafter, I talked with friends across the country who were noticing a similar trend, a significant minority of Hillary-supporting gay Democrats intending to vote Republican this fall in the presidential contest. Andrew Belonsky, editor of the gay blog Queerty (no McCain supporters they), observed this phenomenon in Philadelphia, writing in May, “A gay man mentioned that he and many of his friends — all of whom support Hillary Clinton — plan on voting for John McCain if Barack Obama gets the Democratic nomination.”
In 2004, the gay media all but ignored gay Republicans intending to vote for President Bush. They assumed the number would be small because Log Cabin Republicans (the national gay and lesbian GOP group) had failed to endorse the GOP nominee. So, all were surprised when Bush got 23% of the gay vote that year. It was a story the media missed. When I did a follow-up post predicting McCain could substantially improve Bush’s achievement and get as much as 40% of the gay vote, even more such Democrats came out of the woodwork. One reader wrote:

I’m gay, live in San Francisco, voted and donated money to Hillary Clinton. I’ve never voted for a Republican for president — though I did vote for Arnold in 2006. No way in hell am I voting for Obama, and McCain is 95% of the way towards winning my vote. As long as he doesn’t pick an uber-social conservative [running mate], I’m in.

With Obama having since secured the Democratic nomination, I decided to follow up with my Democratic friends and readers who had supported Hillary in the primaries and were supporting McCain in the general election.

Of the people I talked to since I first noticed this trend, only one showed any inclination to back Obama now that he has won his party’s nomination; this New Yorker intends to vote for the Democratic nominee, but with a “heavy heart.” The remainder had mixed feelings on McCain, most generally favorable to the Arizona senator. Yet, one man will be voting Republican despite having reservations about the party’s nominee. While he believes John McCain “takes a stance on issues rather than avoiding them and refusing to answer questions like Obama,” he called the Arizona senator “more of the same … no different than the current Bush crime family.”

This Angeleno, like the others, just doesn’t trust Obama. He called the Illinois senator “a hypocritical liar” for his constantly changing stands on his former pastor. Another, a student from Ohio, said “Obama is a blank slate candidate; he has fabricated an identity with help from the press and his books. He has no real record of being a ‘post-partisan.'” A scientist and technical project manager in Silicon Valley called Obama a “good motivational speaker [who] has gotten ahead of himself.”

This man seemed the most enthusiastic about McCain because he likes “good government conservatives. … McCain has always impressed me with his vigor in supporting lobbying, campaign finance, and ethics reform as well as his stand against earmarks.” The Ohio student, the most enthusiastic Hillary supporter (of those I contacted for this article), believes the presumptive Republican nominee “brings similar things that Hillary has: experience, hard work, a record of bucking trends, and fighting ahead.” All those who responded to my questions thought the economy was the most important issue.

Given that most gay groups — with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) recently endorsing Senator Obama — believe the Democratic nominee is better on gay issues, I asked these Democrats how important they felt gay issues were when they cast their vote. They didn’t really think they were all that important, with one grateful that McCain wouldn’t push a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. In 2004 and again in 2006, the Arizona senator voted against a proposed constitutional amendment enshrining the definition of marriage as one man and one woman in the federal constitution.

A few identified other Democratic friends inclined to vote for the Republican nominee, with one saying he knows “at least 50. They concur that Obama is a liar and will say and do whatever it takes to get elected. He has no experience to enable him to run this country.”

Other gay people are more reticent to openly express such concerns. A friend of mine, a leader in the LA gay community and strong Hillary supporter, reported that professional colleagues approach him in “secret” to discuss their unease with the presumptive Democratic nominee and their likely vote for the Republican. These Hillary supporters warming to McCain may well be used to such reactions; when the contest for the Democratic nomination was still ongoing, one man noted the difficulty of coming out in Hollywood circles as a supporter of Obama’s rival for the Democratic nomination.

This gay man relished those moments when he met another Democrat questioning Obama’s competence.

There do seem to be a substantial number of gay Democrats doing just that, questioning the competence of their party’s presidential nominee. Whether their support will be significant enough to swing a state into McCain’s column remains to be seen. I think the phenomenon of gay Hillary supporters switching to McCain helps secure Florida for the GOP, keeps Pennsylvania competitive, and puts New Jersey in play.

It’s why I’m betting on John McCain to get more than 30% of the gay vote.