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Why President Obama’s same-sex marriage decision matters less than you think

at 07:38 AM ET, 05/10/2012

President Obama’s decision to reverse course and announce his support for same-sex marriage created a media feeding frenzy Wednesday as the press tried to wrap its collective arms around the various aspects of the story.


President Barack Obama participates in a one on one interview with Robin Roberts, co-host of ABC's "Good Morning America," in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 9, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Judging from all the coverage, it’s easy to assume that the Obama decision on gay marriage could well serve as a pivot point in his reelection bid.

But while it is without doubt a significant moment in the history of gay rights (and of Obama’s presidency), the announcement seems destined to have a relatively meager echo in the November presidential election. (Make sure to check out our piece from Wednesday on the general pluses and minuses of the decision.)

Why? Because the people who care deeply about same-sex marriage are primarily clustered on the ideological left and right of their respective parties and, therefore, would be voting for/against Obama no matter what he did on this particular issue.

For everybody else, it’s a back-burner issue — at best.

In a mid-April Gallup poll people were asked to name the most important issue facing the country. Less than 1 percent named “gay rights issues.”

In a March NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll, a majority of people — 54 percent — said it didn’t make much difference to them where a candidate stood on same-sex marriage. (Among independents, nearly two-thirds said a candidate’s position on gay marriage made no difference to their vote.)

The simple fact is that most people — particularly low-information independent voters — will quickly move beyond this same sex marriage debate and back to the economy.

In times of economic crisis in the country, it’s virtually impossible for any event to overtake an individual’s own financial situation for primacy when it comes to what will most impact votes.

(Remember how Obama’s authorization of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden was going to fundamentally re-shape the election? Not so much.)

Compounding that reality is the fact that most Republicans — particularly former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney — seem to have virtually no interest in litigating the issue.

Asked on the campaign trail Wednesday about Obama’s switch on the issue, Romney responded tersely: “I have the same view on marriage that I had when I was governor. I believe marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. I have the same view I’ve had since, well, running for office.”

Romney and his campaign team recognize that any extended debate over same-sex marriage takes them away from focusing voters’ attention on the economy and what they want to be the central question of this election: “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”

And Obama said in the full interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he won’t press the issue much either.

“I’m not going to spend most of my time talking about this, because frankly, my job as president right now — my biggest priority — is to make sure that we’re growing the economy, that we’re putting people back to work,” Obama said.

Yes, the Obama decision on same-sex marriage will fire up an element of both parties’ bases. But for the coveted center of the electorate, this issue will almost certainly function as a temporary distraction from an ongoing focus on the economy.

Florida and Ohio dead heats: Two new polls of the presidential race show the nation’s marquee swing states — Florida and Ohio — are both deadlocked.

A Quinnipiac University poll in Ohio shows Obama at 45 percent and Romney at 44 percent, while a Suffolk University poll in Florida shows Obama at 46 percent and Romney at 45 percent.

Interestingly, the Ohio poll suggests Romney picking Ohio Sen. Rob Portman as his vice presidential nominee wouldn’t make much difference, while the Florida poll shows him picking Sen. Marco Rubio would help slightly, putting Romney at 47 percent and Obama at 44 percent.

(Though we should note that other polling has shown picking Rubio wouldn’t make a difference.)

Paul says he’s not looking to disrupt convention: Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said Wednesday that his goal is not to disrupt the Republican National Convention by amassing delegates.

Instead, Paul said, his goal is to have an impact on the GOP agenda.

“It certainly isn’t for the reason of disrupting the convention,” Paul said. “I’m in it for very precise reasons: to maximize our efforts to get as many delegates as we can. I’m still a candidate, and to promote something that is very, very important, that is a change in the direction for the Republican Party.”

Paul is the lone major GOP candidate still challenging Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination. Romney is within about 200 delegates of officially securing the nomination, though Paul is making a dent in several key caucus states by dominating the delegate selection process.

For more on Paul’s efforts, be sure to check out Dave Fahrenthold’s great piece today.

NRCC names 12 to Young Guns: The National Republican Congressional Committee has named its first dozen candidates to its Young Guns program for top recruits.

Here’s the list:

Keith Rothfus (Critz, PA-12)

Matt Doheny (Owens, NY-21)

Randy Altschuler (Bishop, NY-01)

Richard Tisei (Tierney, MA-06)

Andy Barr (Chandler, KY-06)

Ricky Gill (McNerney, CA-09)

Jackie Walorski (Open, IN-02)

Jason Plummer (Open, IL-12)

Jesse Kelly (Open, AZ-08 special election)

David Valadao (Open, CA-21)

Mia Love (Matheson, UT-04)

Tony Strickland (Open, CA-26)

Notably, the group includes a gay Republican (Tisei), an African-American (Love), and the son of Portuguese immigrants (Valadao).

Fixbits:

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) airs his first ad in the Montana Senate race, going after Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) on taxes and voting with Obama.

Chris Christie raises money for former congresswoman Heather Wilson (R) in the New Mexico Senate race.

Tim Pawlenty shutters his political action committee.

Mike Huckabee uses Obama’s gay-marriage flip to raise money for his PAC.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) endorses Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) in the Florida GOP Senate primary.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) asked to be water-boarded a few years ago to see how it felt, but the CIA turned him down.

Must-reads:

Ron Paul’s guerrilla delegate campaign” — David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

Red Alert: If Republicans fail to make inroads with minority voters, they may be doomed to run from behind” — Reid Wilson, National Journal

 
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