In March, I reported that Obama’s campaign advisers had held behind-the-scenes discussions with top Dems about the political upsides and downsides of coming out for gay marriage before the election. The upsides: It could galvanize young voters, who have now emerged as pivotal to the presidential campaign, and could help recapture some of the historic aura of 2008. The downsides: It could alienate culturally conservative swing voters.
The real signficance of the flap over Joe Biden’s gay marriage comments, which continues today, is that it has forced this debate out into the open — and turned it into a story about equivocation and political calculation, which was not inevitable. Peter Wallsten and Dan Eggen get inside what’s really going on with the Obama team’s internal divisions over the issue:
Several people close to the White House said the episode has exposed internal tensions within Obama’s team between those who want the president to say he favors same-sex marriage before the November election and others who worry about a political backlash if he does — not just among conservatives and working-class voters but among African Americans who are Obama’s most loyal support bloc but tend to oppose such unions.
The problem is that it’s now too late to handle this in any way that avoids looking political and calculating. Some gay advocates have convincingly argued that Obama should have simply embraced the inevitable last year, when New York passed gay marriage. As veteran Dem operative Steve Elmendorf tells Politico: “He should have moved on it last year. Now, you’re going to continually be in a position on the trail and in debates where you’re going to be asked the question.”
Yesterday’s Biden comments provided another chance for the White House to embrace the inevitable. But as the New York Times notes in a blistering editorial today, Obama’s aides instead doubled down on the position that Obama is “evolving.” This is an untenable stance, since all it does is persuade everyone that Obama really does believe in full equality for gay and lesbian Americans but won’t say so outloud for political reasons. And that's now the story.
There’s more: As ABC’s Rick Klein notes, Dems will have to resolve the dicey question of whether to put marriage equality into the party platform at the convention this summer, which means this issue will again come to a head no matter what. At this point, it doesn’t look like there’s any easy way out.
* Obama is still far better than Romney on gay marriage: Steve Benen has a comprehensive comparison of the two men’s stances, and look, there’s no question that Obama is far, far better on gay rights and that Romney is absolutely awful. The question remains: Why did this story have to turn out the way it did?
* Reporters lampoon White House’s gay marriage stance: Dana Milbank details the brutal grilling that White House press secretary Jay Carney endured over his repeated justifications for Obama’s failure to evolve. When your position becomes the subject of mockery, you know you’ve lost.
* Obama to prod GOP and “do nothing Congress”: Obama today will roll out a five point “to do list” for Congress and that includes job creation and mortgage relief measures. Obama will also propose a 20 percent tax credit for companies that move operations back to the United States — or “insourcing,” which has become central to Obama’s argument about the economy.
The latter proposal seems designed to draw a sharp contrast with Mitt Romney, and the larger political question is whether Romney can avoid getting dragged into this fight, and dragged down by the unpopular GOP Congress and its inaction on jobs, as Dems are intent on making happen.
* Senate to vote on student loans — will Romney emerge unscathed? Speaking of the “do nothing” Congress, the Senate is set to vote at noon today on the Dem version of the proposal extending low interest rates for federally funded student loans. At the same time, Romney is set to give a speech at Lansing Community College in Pennsylvania — and the Obama campaign will use the occasion to highlight Romney’s expressions of hostility towards government help with student debt during the primary.
Romney has since pivoted on the issue and come out in support of extending low student loan interest. But Senate Dems and House Republicans will continue to battle over how to pay for it — and the question is whether Romney will be pushed to take a side in that dispute.
* Obama re-elect reality check of the day: Important reading: Ron Brownstein digs into the latest Gallup polling of the 12 top swing states and finds that it only took a small shift against Obama among key groups — so-called “waitress moms,” and college educated white men and women — to make the context extremely close. This underscores how incredibly tight Obama’s margin of error is, and how central the battle for the female vote will be to his reelection hopes.
* Bonus Obama re-elect reality check of the day: Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trend demonstrates that it’s folly to assume, based on previous elections, that Romney’s path to 270 electoral votes is necessarily a prohbitively narrow one. A three-point or four-point election with either Obama or Romney as victor seems possible.
* Wisconsin Dems set to pick Scott Walker’s opponent: Today is primary day in Wisconsin, and Andy Kroll frames the choice:
Do you pick the candidate who captures the progressive spirit and populist outrage that triggered Walker’s recall? Or the one with the best showing in the polls? If the recall election were held today, survey after survey shows, Barrett would stand the best chance of defeating Walker in a head-to-head fight.
* Voting on Amendment One set for today: North Carolina voters will weigh in today on the measure to make marriage between a man and a woman the only legal union in the state. Will Bill Clinton’s entry at the last minute is enough to enable opponents to pull off an upset?
Also: As ABC News notes, Obama has not weighed in on this ballout initiative since March, something that has added resonance amid the White House’s walkback of Biden’s comments.
* And liberal donors finally step up: After a period in which liberal donors to third party groups didn’t seem aware of what’s about to hit them, they are finally stepping up to donate some $100 million to the super PACs and outside groups that will try to combat the tsunami of spending from the right.
The twist is that they are targeting cash towards ground game activities — a mark that trying to match conservative ad spending is futile and that the air war with the right will be left to the Obama campaign.