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The Death of the "Values Voter" | The Nation

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The Death of the "Values Voter"

Since the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its ruling on same-sex unions, Bush and the religious right have amped up their gay-baiting rhetoric in a last ditch effort to turn out so-called values voters. On the stump in Missouri and Montana -- where polls show Democrats Claire McCaskill and Jon Tester in dead heats with their GOP opponents -- Bush once again raised the specter of "activist judges." Of course, the Haggard scandal threatens to puncture these desperate measures, but even before Pastor Ted's sex, drugs and voicemail indiscretions surfaced, all signs indicated that anti-gay marriage measures have failed to motivate vaunted values voters.

I've been speaking with organizers in the eight states (WI, CO, AZ, SD, VA, TN, SC, ID) where defense of marriage amendments are on the ballot. You'll find a partial report below. I'll update this post with more state dispatches, so check back again.

A few broad patterns have become clear. First, the New Jersey decision has had little impact on state campaigns; the right-wing has ticked up its rhetoric, but there's no discernible shift in polls or mood at the state level. Second, marriage amendments will have little impact on top of the ticket races, which have been focused on either the Iraq War or locally hot issues like immigration (AZ) or abortion (SD). Third, even GOP candidates and right-wing activists have shied away from emphasizing their support of marriage amendments; it's in their arsenal but not their best weapon. Finally, 2006 may be a watershed year. A set of smart, scrappy, grassroots campaigns are poised to make history, becoming the first to defeat anti-gay marriage amendments at the voting booth.

Raising Arizona

On election day Arizonans will vote on Prop. 107, the "Protect Marriage Arizona Amendment." Modeled after far-reaching bans like Ohio's, Prop. 107 would not only define marriage as a "union between one man and one woman," but also bar the state from recognizing any status that is "similar to that of marriage" (civil unions, domestic partnerships and reciprocal beneficiaries). For over a year polls have consistently predicted that Prop. 107 would fail, and although numbers have tightened -- the most recent polls still tip against the amendment but fall within the margin of error -- No on 107 campaign chair Cindy Jordan is optimistic that Arizona will reject the amendment.

This result -- should it occur -- wasn't necessarily preordained. Republicans have dominated state politics since 1950. And while the Grand Canyon state can turn out streaky conservatives like Goldwater, McCain, Kyl and retiring, gay Congressman Jim Kolbe, it's also home to a robust and organized Christian right who've propped up candidates like Congressional nominee Randy Graf and Republican gubernatorial candidate Len Munsil.

Graf and Munsil are bona fide social conservatives. Pro-life, anti-gay and pro-gun, Graf challenged Kolbe from the right in the 2004 primary, and this year he defeated a more moderate Republican by tarring him as a RINO (Republican In Name Only). Notably, Kolbe has refused to endorse Graf in the general election where he lags behind Gabby Giffords, who's expected to pick-up the seat for Democrats. Likewise, Munsil is the founder of the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), a family policy council affiliated with Dobson's Focus on the Family, which has been spearheading the campaign for Prop. 107.

However, according to both Jordan and Wingspan's (Tucson's LGBT Center) executive director Kent Burbank, Prop. 107 hasn't played a big role in Arizona's key elections. In part, that's because both Giffords and incumbent Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano (as well as GOP Senator Jon Kyl) enjoy substantial leads in their respective races. But more significantly, the key issues in Arizona are the war and immigration. As Jordan put it to me, "every single Republican candidate here has emphasized immigration. It's their number one issue and the only thing that's working for them." Indeed, sharing the ballot with Prop. 107 this year are a raft of anti-immigrant measures that are expected to pass by wide margins. Munsil's latest campaign propaganda brazenly attempts to connect anxiety over 9/11 with anti-immigrant sentiment. Over an image of a plane flying into a smoking World Trade Center, Munsil's mailing says, "The terrorists who flew this plane carried U.S. driver's licenses."

Credit is also due, of course, to the anti-Prop. 107 forces. It hasn't always been an easy road. Earlier this fall, the campaign to defeat Prop. 107 split into two factions, which share some messages and resources, but also diverge strategically and geographically. In the wealthier, more conservative and Phoenix-centered north, Arizona Together runs TV ads that stress the harm Prop. 107 would do to heterosexual, unmarried households. This decision has rankled some gay activists who note that same-sex couples are virtually invisible in all of Arizona Together's campaign materials. Indeed, Arizona Together's chair, Kyrsten Sinema, was quoted in local newspapers saying, "If this was about same-sex marriage, I would not be on this campaign. I would pass and go home."

In southern Arizona, home of more liberal Tucson, a parallel group called No on 107 emphasizes both gay and straight relationships. According to Burbank, "Tucson has done a good job of walking the middle road. We deal with issues of marriage equality and also realize that Prop. 107's hate-filled message goes much further than marriage rights and restricts benefits for a lot of people." No on 107 has also eschewed expensive TV buys. Raising over $60,000 from small, grassroots donations, they've run radio ads on 14 different stations in southern Arizona, including Spanish-language spots. No on 107 chair Cindy Jordan says, "The response to the radio has been incredible. It truly has had an affect. Also, it helped the community here in Tucson. We asked them for money and we spent it exactly how we said we would. I think that is an important part of running a grassroots campaign."

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