If you were the Democratic nominee for governor of Wisconsin, how would you respond to questions about your position on gay marriage?
This is a question I asked a politically savvy friend of mine a couple nights ago. He responded something to the effect of, "I respect the will of the people of Wisconsin, but I think the campaign that took place was very ugly and unnecessary, and I support domestic partnership benefits."
I was impressed by how close his answer came to that of Tom Barrett's campaign. Here is a statement sent in response to questions I asked for an article I am writing about gay rights in Wisconsin:
"The people of Wisconsin spoke on gay marriage in the referendum vote four years ago. I felt some of the organizers of the ban were more interested in a mean-spirited attempt to single out a group of people rather than protecting the sanctity of marriage, but I respect the will of the voters. I support civil unions, and as governor I will ensure that domestic partnership benefits remain the law in our state for all Wisconsin families."
I do wonder if the campaign would have gotten back to me if the Journal-Sentinel was not also pestering them about the same issue. The other day the MJS had an article, which discussed the different positions on gay rights the gubernatorial candidates take, but also pointed out one big similarity: None of them want to talk about it.
Both Republican and Democratic candidates are trying to appeal to the general electorate without alienating their base. Both have different means of doing this, but it is clearly a painful process that all three campaigns feel earns them no points and takes them off the crucial economic messages necessary to win during a recession.
Simply put, the polls don't support gay marriage yet, which means some Democrats are reluctant to endorse it. For the GOP, polls do support domestic partnerships, but there is a powerful primary base that wants candidates to toe the anti-gay line. Since Barrett is the only Dem candidate, it makes sense that he is only concerned with the general electorate, whereas Walker and Neumann can't afford to tick off the far right. In contrast, Dems who do have competitive primaries have made different calculations. Lt. Gov. Henry Sanders would be the perfect example.