DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — President Barack Obama’s support for gay marriage adds a new layer of complexity for voters — especially independents — in battleground states that will decide the race for the White House.
While the economy is certain to dominate the campaign over the next six months, gay marriage could have an impact at the margins in key states from Colorado to Ohio to Virginia by influencing voter turnout among important constituencies, among them minorities, young voters and evangelicals.
“It may cost you as many votes as it wins you,” said Colorado Republican Greg Brophy, a state senator.Advocates on both sides of the emotional issue agree Obama’s pronouncement will stoke enthusiasm among core Democrats and Republicans, likely boosting turnout in the November election and fundraising ahead of it. The big unknown is where independent voters — and specifically those Obama struggles to win over, such as middle-class whites — land in the fewer than a dozen states expected to make a difference in the quest for the White House.
“Any little one thing could be the issue that turns Nevada one way or the other,” said James Smack, a Republican National Committee member. He also could have been talking about the other states that are expected to be too close to call until the end, among them: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa and New Hampshire.
National surveys show a majority Americans support legalizing gay marriage. But most blacks — a core part of Obama’s base — do not. And Obama needs them to turn out in huge numbers as they did four years ago in places like Cleveland, Richmond, Va., and Charlotte, N.C., in order to win in such battleground states. The same goes for Democratic-leaning Hispanic voters.
At the same time, most evangelicals and other conservatives who make up the base of the GOP are strongly opposed to gay marriage. And Obama’s position could end up unifying conservatives behind presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who has struggled to win them on his own. The former Massachusetts governor opposes gay marriage, but has spoken in favor of gay rights in the past.
It’s an issue that motivates the GOP’s conservative base to come out and vote, and that could have an impact in traditionally Republican states like Virginia and elsewhere.
North Carolina voters, for example, overwhelmingly passed a referendum Tuesday that strengthened the state’s gay-marriage ban. It appears to have driven GOP turnout to record levels. Sixty-one percent of voters approved the measure in a traditionally Republican state Obama won four years ago.
That said, large majorities of Americans under 30 support gay unions, and Obama’s move may fire them up enough to counteract any potential falloff by minorities and enthusiasm by conservatives.
Still, Democratic-leaning states like Michigan could become more attractive to Republican Mitt Romney and typically Republican-tilting states like North Carolina could become more perilous for the Democratic president, if the outcry on the right is great and backlash among minorities materializes.
Norma Love in New Hampshire, Bob Lewis in Virginia, Gary Robertson in North Carolina, Julie Carr Smyth and Dan Sewell in Ohio, Sandra Chereb in Nevada and Ivan Moreno in Colorado contributed to this report.