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Democrats Target Gay Voters
Follow corporate trend with mixed results.
By Michael Wilke


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NOV. 28, 2004. Echoing the growing interest of corporations in the gay market, the Democratic National Committee made one of their strongest pushes ever to court the national lesbian and gay community with hopes of increasing their share of the vote. They had mixed results.

According to CNN exit polls, lesbian, gay and bisexual voters represented 4 percent of the vote in 2000 and about the same this year, though there was a bump to six percent in this year's primaries.

Twenty-three percent of the gay community supported George Bush — nearly the same as in 2000, at 25 percent — despite his support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. However, Kerry picked up an additional seven percent of gay votes over Al Gore, some gained from Ralph Nader defectors.

New Focus
Although lesbians and gay men have already historically voted more Democratic than Republican, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) director of specialty press Brian Richardson aimed to tilt the odds further in the November election. "In 2000, one million LGBT voters cast their ballots for Bush," Richardson says. The advertising plan was "to reach out to those one million voters, as well as the countless LGBT Americans who don't usually vote."

The DNC advertised in every issue of The Advocate since April 2003 with messages such as, "One out of three gay couples has children ... Republicans believe they should be taken away" and "Their Attorney General: John Ashcroft. Our Attorney General: Janet Reno."

"The LGBT community is an integral part of the Democratic Party," declares Richardson, calling the DNC ad campaign "the largest (LGBT) outreach program ever by a major political party."

Back in 2001, the DNC ran its first ad — a full-page listing reasons why gay voters should vote Democratic. DNC treasurer and LGBT community leader Andy Tobias first came up with the idea to target gay voters, Richardson explains. "Those ads are part of a larger ad campaign to the LGBT community, which also includes placing ads in local LGBT publications and on LGBT web sites."

Still, while the DNC consistently placed ads in the bi-monthly Advocate for well over a year, the ads never took up more than a third of a page. "We want to advertise in national publications, but still have enough resources to purchase ads in local LGBT papers and online so we can reach the most voters in most possible ways," Richardson says.

He reported feedback was strong and the DNC's LGBT outreach website "received a number of phone calls and emails from supporters looking to volunteer in their own neighborhoods after they first saw our ads in their local papers."

The DNC was not afraid of offending the undecided fence-sitters. "Voters know that we are the party that fights for all Americans and that we believe in an inclusive America," Richardson says.

Marriage Amendments Heated Up Advertising
With anti-gay rhetoric high this year, it was not surprising that the Republican National Committee did not follow the DNC's lead to advertise in the LGBT community. They did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

Anti-gay groups, however, were actively inserting gay issues into their advertising to affect the presidential race. The Arlington Group, a coalition of evangelical organizations, spent $2 million on newspaper ads in February and March to thank President Bush for his endorsement of the Federal Marriage Amendment.

In October, conservative Gary Bauer began a $500,000 television ad campaign for Americans United to Preserve Marriage, which declared that John Kerry opposed efforts to stop gay marriage in Massachusetts and ended by asserting, "John Kerry — too liberal for America." The ad ran in battleground states Pennsylvania and Michigan, and the Human Rights Campaign says it was the first television political attack ad to use same-sex marriage in the presidential election.

Over the summer, HRC itself invested in an unprecedented amount of print and TV advertising, over $1 million, to sway voters against the Federal Marriage Amendment and similar state amendments in Ohio, Missouri, Oregon and elsewhere. Also fighting the Missouri amendment, the Constitution Defense League ran a television ad in the final days before losing the vote.

The gay organization Log Cabin Republicans, which did not endorse President Bush for the first time this year, ran its own first TV commercial against the marriage amendment featuring Vice President Dick Cheney.

Gay concerns were also hot button issues on the state level. Citing support by New York Senator Charles Schumer and Republican challenger Howard Mills for gay civil unions, Conservative Party candidate Marilyn O'Grady ran a TV spot representing the men together atop a wedding cake. And in the Colorado primary for the U.S. Senate, incumbent Republican Bob Schafer accused challenger Pete Coors of supporting gay rights. Coors won, but fell to Democratic candidate Ken Salazar who supported gay adoption, but not gay marriage.

The DNC's Richardson offered that the Republican National Committee actually was targeting the LGBT community in their ads — but not to win them over. "Instead of reaching out to LGBT voters, they are using us in a divisive and discriminatory campaign of bigotry." He adds the DNC "never takes votes for granted and these ads are one more way we can show LGBT Democrats that this is true."

Mike Wilke's Commercial Closet column covers gay issues in advertising, marketing and media. For 85 years of gay images worldwide see www.CommercialCloset.org.

Additional reporting by Eric Noll



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