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Commercial Closet: Democrats Follow Corps In Targeting Gays
by Michael Wilkie

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Gay issues were debated like never before and so were gay voters in the election. Echoing the growing interest of corporations in the gay market, the Democratic National Committee courted the gay vote nationally for the first time with hopes of growing their part of the vote. According to CNN exit polls, gay, lesbian and bisexual voters represented 4% of the vote in 2000 and this year ?% in this year's primaries). Although gays have already historically voted more Democratic than Republican, DNC director of specialty press Brian Richardson was looking to tilt the odds further in the November election. 'In 2000, one million GLBT voters cast their ballots for Bush,' Richardson says. The advertising plan was 'to reach out to those one million voters, as well as countless GLBT 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 GLBT community is an integral part of the Democratic Party,' declares Richardson, calling the DNC ad campaign 'the largest (GLBT) outreach program ever by a major political party.' Still, 23% of the gay community supported George Bush—nearly the same as in 2000, at 25%—despite his support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. However, Kerry picked up an additional 7% of gay votes over Al Gore, some gained from Ralph Nader defectors. Back in 2001, the DNC ran its first ad—a full-page listing reasons why gay voters should vote Democrat. DNC treasurer and GLBT community leader Andy Tobias first came up with the idea to target gays, Richardson explains. 'Those ads are part of a larger ad campaign to the GLBT community, which also includes placing ads in local GLBT publications and on GLBT 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 GLBT papers and online so we can reach the most voters in the most possible ways,' Richardson says. He reported feedback was strong and the DNC's GLBT outreach Web site & 'received a number of phone calls and e-mails 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 GLBT community. The RNC did not respond to repeated calls for comment. Not missing a beat, anti-gay groups were 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 states John Kerry opposed efforts to stop gay marriage in Massachusetts and ends by asserting, 'John Kerry—too liberal for America.' The ad ran in battleground states Pennsylvania and Michigan, and the Human Rights Campaign says it is 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. State politics have also used gay issues as hot buttons. Citing support by New York Sen. 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 Colorado Republican Bob Schafer's campaign to defend his U.S. Senate seat from Pete Coors accused him of supporting gays. Cynically, the DNC's Richardson offered that the RNC was targeting the GLBT community in their ads—but not to win them over. 'Instead of reaching out to GLBT 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 GLBT Democrats that this is true.' (With reporting by Eric Noll.)

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