Midterms Digest: Will marriage equality help Democrats on Election Day?

Plus: The latest on the fight for the Senate, House Dems' tough slog, marijuana, and climate change

Published October 7, 2014 2:22PM (EDT)

                                                                                                  (AP Photo/Mathew Sumner)
(AP Photo/Mathew Sumner)

When the Supreme Court let stand yesterday a series of appeals court rulings in favor of marriage equality – paving the way for same-sex marriage in up to 11 new states within a few weeks – the court once again thrust a hot-button social issue into the national spotlight.

The high court’s acquiescence to the lower court rulings comes as national opinion continues to move decisively in the direction of support for marriage equality. A CBS News/New York Times poll released last month found that Americans favor the right of same-sex couples to marry by a 56 to 37 percent margin. There’s even been a remarkable shift among Republicans; while a 52 percent majority of GOPers polled opposed marriage equality, 41 percent supported it.

Republican officeholders, however, remain overwhelmingly opposed to same-sex marriage. While four in 10 rank-and-file Republicans support marriage equality, just four of 45 Senate Republicans and four of 233 House Republicans do. So, as Democrats seek to maintain Senate control and stave off Republican gains in the House, might it help the party to remind voters of the GOP’s persistent opposition to equal rights for same-sex couples?

Bloomberg Politics’ Jonathan Allen and Annie Linskey think so. As they point out, the court’s action yesterday places front and center an issue the Republican establishment would rather not discuss four weeks out from a crucial election. In Colorado, for instance, where six in 10 voters support marriage equality, Sen. Mark Udall will likely seek to highlight Republican challenger Cory Gardner’s anti-marriage position.

Democrats campaigning on support for marriage equality could put Republicans in a tough position. If Democrats press the issue, it makes the GOP’s silence on the issue increasingly untenable – Republicans will have to respond somehow. It’s unlikely that GOP candidates will simply make a U-turn and embrace marriage equality; that would raise the ire of the party’s conservative base. But social conservatives won’t take kindly if Republicans adopt Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker tack – that regardless of their personal views, marriage equality is a settled issue. Meanwhile, more moderate voters could be turned off if GOP candidates reaffirm their opposition to same-sex marriage.

Will a social issue like marriage equality resonate in an election dominated by topics like the economy, the Islamic State militant group, and the Affordable Care Act? Look to Colorado and North Carolina for a hint. As Bloomberg’s Joshua Green observes, Colorado’s Udall and North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan have built up substantial leads among women voters by hammering their GOP opponents for their opposition to reproductive rights. The two contests show that while social issues won’t be the primary concerns for most voters, even voters focused on other issues may not consider voting for a candidate they find out of touch on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

In other midterms news:

  • In the clearest sign yet that Republicans have given up on the Michigan Senate race, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has cancelled the remaining television time it had reserved for the two weeks leading up to election day, The Hill reports. The race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin pits Democratic Rep. Gary Peters against Republican Terri Lynn Land; several polls early this cycle showed Land either leading or running even with Peters, but a series of recent polls have given the Democrat a healthy lead.
  • While the battle for Senate control is still up in the air, the GOP’s House majority is safe this year, something even the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee concedes. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published today, New York Rep. Steve Israel said that House Democrats confront “a hostile environment” heading into the midterms, although not as inhospitable of a climate as they faced in 2010. Perhaps the most revealing nugget in Israel’s interview was his assertion that internal polls show a tight race between indicted Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York and his Democratic challenger. A poll released last month found the embattled incumbent ahead, and Israel’s statement that the race will go “down to the wire” seems to confirm that the seat – seen as a relatively easy pickup for Democrats after Grimm’s 20-count indictment on fraud charges – is no sure thing for the party, after all.
  • Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper faces a tough battle for re-election against Republican former congressman Bob Beauprez, and it’s unlikely that Hickenlooper’s latest remarks on marijuana will help him shore up his base. In a debate with Beauprez on Monday, Hickenlooper said it was “reckless” of the state’s voters to legalize marijuana in a 2012 referendum; Beauprez agreed.
  • The “super PAC to end all super PACs” is making a big splash in South Dakota’s Senate race, where a recent poll showed a tightening three-way race among Republican former Gov. Mike Rounds, Democrat Rick Weiland, and independent Larry Pressler, who represented South Dakota in the Senate as a Republican from 1979 to 1997. Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig’s Mayday PAC plans to spend $1 million in support of Weiland, a progressive populist and staunch supporter of campaign finance reform, the Huffington Post reports.
  • Despite previous denials that humans have anything to do with climate change, two Senate Republicans changed their tunes in debates on Monday. Cory Gardner in Colorado and Scott Brown in New Hampshire both conceded that humans bear responsibility for rising temperatures, but neither man would commit to action to solve the climate crisis. Gardner was especially critical of Sen. Mark Udall’s support for cap-and-trade legislation to combat climate change.

By Luke Brinker

MORE FROM Luke Brinker