With Thursday's news that another of the four Republican senators in New York who voted for gay marriage had lost the support of a local conservative committee, we're starting to see the contours of the case against them, which isn't based on their gay marriage vote—or so the opponents say.
Earlier this week, the Erie County Conservative Party endorsed a socially conservative Democrat challenging Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti. And Thursday, the Republican committee in Sen. Roy McDonald’s hometown endorsed a potential Republican opponent, Steven McLaughlin. According Poststar, a local news site, McLaughlin said: "I know that the people are going to try to make this into an anti-gay marriage campaign... That isn’t it at all." Not at all? When a Conservative party endorses a Democrat and a Republican committee targets a Republican incumbent in a year when control of the Senate is up for grabs, count us skeptical that this is about anything but the stand you pledged to make before and after their votes on an issue you strongly oppose. Nevertheless, here's a look at some of the other issues the challengers to the Republicans want voters to think the upcoming campaign will be about:
- Other social issues: McLaughlin said that beyond his differences with McDonald on gay marriage, they differ on "tax-payer funded abortions." Meanwhile, Grisanti's opponent Charles Swanick pledged to the Erie Conservatives that he'd oppose abortion, too. This makes strategic sense. In a campaign where anger is chiefly motivated by a social issue like gay marriage, broadening the fight to differences on other social issues like abortion seems likely to resonate and perhaps broaden the base of revolt.
- Taxes: In these Tea Party times we live in, opponents will also tout differences on fiscal conservatism. Swanick may be a Democrat but he pitches himself as a fiscal conservative to the Conservative Party that endorsed him. He says he opposes a "millionaire's tax" disguised as a "middle class tax cut" that Grisanti supported. McLaughlin too says he'd run on his fiscal conservatism.
- Consistency: A common point made by opponents of gay marriage is that the Republican senators went back on the opposition they'd pledged to their constituents. It's not about gay marriage, they say. It's about keeping your word. As McDonald's opponent McLaughlin told The New York Times, "'When you then say, four days before a monumental vote, that, ‘I’m sick and tired of partisan politics; if you don’t like it, take the job and shove it,’' Mr. McLaughlin said, 'I believe that the people that sent you off, they have a right to feel betrayed.'"
Of course if you plan to run an entire campaign, it makes sense to broaden your case to cover more than one issue. You do, after all, have to convince a wider base of people to vote out their incumbent. And it's not that any of these opponents are pretending that the gay marriage vote isn't a part of their resistance to Sens. Grisanti and McDonald. Nevertheless, we don't suspect this will be anything but a campaign on the Republicans' gay marriage votes, not least because supporters of gay marriage will make it so. "It was essential to send a clear signal around the country that we will support those who support equality, irrespective of party,” Brian Ellner of the Human Rights Campaign, told The Times last year. Mayor Bloomberg this week reiterated that he'd be financially backing the senators who voted his way.
These state senate campaigns have become a national story, and for one reason only: gay marriage. With all that attention and money, it's going to be hard to call it anything other than the main issue at hand, even if that issue raises a lot of money for your targeted senators.