Would Gay Marriage Not Being on the 2010 Ballot Help or Hurt Gavin Newsom? The Answer: Yes.
Being emotionally charged up can certainly affect how demonstratively one waves his or her placard in a street protest, but it's of less use in the voting booth. No matter how emphatically you punch your ballot, it still only counts for one vote. This appears to be the crux of Equality California's decision not to push for same-sex marriage on the 2010 ballot -- activists didn't think they had as good a shot of winning now as in 2012, and they're astute enough to realize that moral victories are for losers.
When you boil it down, it was a simple decision. Less simple, however, is how this will affect the ongoing gubernatorial run of San Francisco's erstwhile mayor, Gavin Newsom. On the one hand, Newsom became a folk hero for many (and hamstrung his progressive critics for years to come) in 2003 when he unilaterally made San Francisco the Las Vegas of same-sex weddings. Yet on the other hand, his braying "whether you like it or not" soundbite formed the cornerstone of the ad campaign that allowed gay marriage opponents to win the day.
Would not having to focus on a looming same-sex marriage electoral showdown help or hurt candidate Gavin Newsom? That depends on whom you ask.
San Francisco political consultant Jim Ross, who worked for Newsom in 2003, thinks that Equality California just did Newsom a big favor by not making this an issue in the forthcoming election (though other gay rights groups may still push for a 2010 ballot measure).
"Newsom has two big problems," in his primary race with Attorney General Jerry Brown, notes Ross. "He has $1 million and he's 20 points behind. "Having gay marriage in 2010 could have at least given him something to talk about."
On the other hand, if Newsom emerges victorious as the standard-bearer for the Democratic party -- a big if, by the way -- Ross feels that Newsom would be burdened by once again being the poster boy for same-sex marriage. The Republicans "could run the same campaign they ran in 2008. They could dust off the same commercial and save the production costs." In the end, "I think it would have been a wash in the primary, but could have significantly hurt Newsom in the general."
Yet fellow San Francisco consultant David Latterman doesn't see it that way. He feels gay marriage could have been a benefit to Newsom in both the primary and general elections.
The principal of Fall Line Analytics thinks the gay marriage issue would have helped "marginally" in the primary -- it would have been a "bread and butter issue" for Newsom in his chosen demographic of young voters. Unfortunately for Newsom, however, older voters tend to be the ones showing up en masse for primary elections. In any event, it wouldn't have hurt.
In the general election, however, Latterman thinks gay marriage could have been an ace in the hole for Newsom. If the GOP simply dusted off the "Whether you like it or not" commercials, then "Republicans would have to say 'We're anti-gay.' ... Republicans in this state are dominated by the fringe. If they try that 'like it or not' stuff with Newsom he can turn around and say 'Look at these freaks, that's today's Republican party -- the birthers and nut jobs.'"
In short, Latterman feels that branding candidate Newsom as Mr. Gay Marraige in the general election would have been a very dangerous game for Republicans, with a good chance of backfiring.
And while Latterman and Ross disagree about the impact a 2010 fight over same-sex marriage would have on Newsom's chances, both agreed about the severity of his aforementioned problems. Newsom has a fraction of Brown's money and a 20-point deficit to make up in the polls -- yes, whether he likes it or not.