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Friday, May 16, 2008

California Dreaming

by George Dienhart
The politico called it a gift for John McCain and at first glance, it is hard to argue:
“California Supreme Court overturns gay marriage ban: In a 4-3 decision, the justices rule that people have a fundamental 'right to marry' the person of their choice and that gender restrictions violate the state Constitution's equal protection guarantee. The scope of the court's decision could be thrown into question by an initiative already heading toward the November ballot. The initiative would amend the state Constitution to prohibit same-sex unions. The campaign over that measure began within minutes of the decision. The state's Catholic bishops and other opponents of same-sex marriage denounced the court's ruling. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who previously has vetoed two bills in favor of gay marriage, issued a statement saying he 'respects' the decision and 'will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn' it."

Sen. McCain does not support same-sex marriage, which is dead on with the beliefs of most conservatives. That is not the gift. The gift they refer to is the conventional wisdom that every Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) initiative has brought out Republicans in droves. Ironically, this act by the ultra-liberal California Supreme Court may have put California in play for McCain.
Conventional wisdom says that yes, this is a huge victory for McCain. In the coming days, you will hear that it was the DOMA initiative in Ohio that won the election in 2004. That statement is most likely correct. It may not have been the DOMA that won the election for the President, though. The DOMA supporters had a very effective organization in place. This issue does not just skew to the right- it points directly at the right. Therefore- an extremely effective conservative organization on the ground, the Ohio organization won the state for President Bush, and inadvertently the nation. I do not believe this was a case of conservatives coming out for a pro-DOMA president. It represents that pro-DOMA voters are overwhelmingly Republican. There is an important difference, which we will address later.

This though made me think that we needed a statistical analysis of DOMA results. I found information on 29 DOMA initiatives. 28 have passed- only Arizona’s did not pass- it was narrowly defeated in 2006 (51 to 49 percent). How many of these resulted in turnout increases? I found turnout data on 19 of these ballot initiatives, out of which 17 resulted in measurable increases. The data gets more interesting. 24 races involved either a Presidential of Gubernatorial race on the same ballot. Republicans won 18 of these races. Interestingly, Idaho was the only state where voter turnout was down. Going against conventional wisdom, this state’s gubernatorial race was won by a Republican.

Upon further analysis-, most of the states that were won by Republicans were states that are normally states that are safely Republican- the same held true for Democrats. The anomaly is Ohio. The Democrats thought they had this state. It was a battleground state and both campaigns put forth time and money. The difference was Republicans squeezing extra votes out of the Ohio DOMA effort. This was a side effect of the DOMA- it was not a brilliant tactical move by the Bush team. Our data points out that normal rank and file Republicans carries out most of the activism in DOMA initiative elections. In Ohio, DOMA organizers knew that this was going to be close election and were successful in getting new conservatives involved in the political process. It is here that there is hope for the McCain campaign, and for Californians wishing to pass family friendly laws. Californians will organize on this issue, but the McCain Camp needs to ensure that they organize strongly enough to give his campaign the critical bounce that could handily win the election for him.

There is someone that both of these groups need to connect with. Honestly, they need to do more than connect- they need to motivate him to move from Ohio to California and take the reigns of this effort. His name is Phil Buress, and he is the chairman of Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage. He is the man that is largely responsible for the passage of the Ohio DOMA. Buress is grudgingly supporting McCain. He told Christian World magazine “McCain wasn't my first choice, and I'm not sure about him now, but we've got a zero chance of getting a conservative Supreme Court justice out of either Clinton or Obama. I don't know whether we've got a 25 percent chance, or a 50 percent chance, or a 100 percent chance with McCain—but it's better than zero, and I'm going to do everything in my power to help get him elected. He's our best shot."

While that falls short of a resounding endorsement, it is an endorsement nonetheless. It also means that Buress is likely willing to work for McCain. The best job for Buress is to make use of his talents in turning out DOMA voters in California. If California is to amend its constitution in favor of pro family laws, it will need a strong and experienced leader to run the effort. The benefits to the McCain camp are obvious. Both organizations should be on the phone to Phil Buress- the sooner the better.