The Republican candidate running against Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is looking for help from LGBT voters in his quest to unseat the House speaker.
John Dennis, in his first run for political office, is running against Pelosi to represent California’s 8th congressional district. He’s described on his website as “an accomplished businessman and entrepreneur” as well as “a pro-liberty San Franciscan.”
Dennis has earned the endorsement of the Log Cabin Republicans and last week spoke at the organization’s annual dinner in D.C. to cultivate support among gay Republicans.
During his remarks, the Republican candidate said one thing he was delighted to discover over the course of his campaign is that gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk supported Republican candidate Barry Goldwater in his 1964 bid for the presidency against then-President Lyndon Johnson.
“On the surface, it doesn’t make sense, but if you think about the pre-Stonewall era, it makes complete sense,” Dennis said. “The community had a tough time with government. Government was oppressing it and always on its back. But Barry’s libertarian streak actually connected with the community.”
Dennis emphasized the libertarian elements of the GOP and said those tenets mean the LGBT community “rightfully belongs in the Republican Party with our emphasis on individual liberty.”
Dennis said he’s running against an opponent who represents Democratic control of Washington and dissatisfaction with the federal government.
He said he’s noticed a lot of e-mails from Republican challengers saying their Democratic opponents vote either 94 percent of the time or 96 percent of the time with Pelosi.
“I can guarantee you one thing,” Dennis said. “My opponent votes 100 percent of the time with Nancy Pelosi.”
Dennis spoke with the Blade about his support for LGBT issues following his speech at the Log Cabin dinner. Pelosi hasn’t scheduled a time to talk with the Blade during the 111th Congress despite repeated requests for an interview over the past year.
Among Dennis’ pro-LGBT positions is his support for repeal of laws seen as discriminatory against LGBT people. He said he backs repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as well as the Defense of Marriage Act.
“I don’t think marriage is a government issue,” he said. “It’s certainly not a federal government issue. So, those are issues that I’d be happy to support in the gay community.”
Dennis also said in 2008 he voted against Proposition 8 in California, which ended same-sex marriage in the state. He said his position against Prop 8 is consistent with his view that government should not be in “the marriage business.”
“It was very exclusionary, that law, and didn’t go to solve the problem,” Dennis said. “It just said, ‘OK, well, this is for us and then you guys do whatever you’re going to do.’ And I thought it was a little aggressive.”
Dennis added he thinks U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s recent ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional was “the right decision” and said he expressed his support for the ruling on his blog.
Still, Dennis hesitated when asked if he supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would bar job discrimination against LGBT people in most settings.
Dennis said his support on ENDA will depend on how the legislation “is presented” and said there’s a “flip-side” to the legislation.
“Do you end up forcing homophobes or anti-homosexual groups — do you end up protecting their right to be employed by homosexuals when there’s an obvious conflict there?” Dennis said. “So, it depends on how it’s worded. But, you know, I’m … against discrimination.”
Dennis emphasized his credentials as a Republican and said he wants to stop the “fiscal irresponsibility of Washington.”
“We need to get spending under control,” he said. “We need to balance our budgets. We need to start following the Constitution, and only spend on what the Constitution authorizes the Congress to spend on.”
Dennis said in the primary he ran as a “pro-civil liberties, anti-war, pro-legalization Republican” and won, so he doesn’t think he has “anything to prove to anyone” regarding his place in the Republican Party.
Log Cabin endorsed Dennis on Sept. 16 as part of a group 11 Republican candidates seeking House seats.
Other endorsements included Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who voted for an amendment to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a co-sponsor of numerous pro-LGBT bills.
R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin’s executive director, said Dennis’ support for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a major factor in the organization’s decision to endorse the Pelosi challenger.
“Bottom line is John Dennis is a pro-repeal Republican candidate,” Cooper said. “So he is on our radar screen and we are supporting him as well some other incumbents and candidates who would be a good force-multiplier in the party and help us get the party to be more inclusive toward gays and lesbians.”
Cooper said Dennis has been an “active ally” of the Log Cabin Republicans of San Francisco and has recruited numerous chapter members into his campaign.
Despite his support for LGBT issues, Dennis is running against a lawmaker who for decades has been seen as a stalwart supporter of LGBT people.
Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, emphasized the speaker’s record on pro-LGBT legislation.
“Speaker Pelosi has been a staunch advocate for the LGBT community in her more than 20 years in the Congress; helping lead the fight against HIV/AIDS, opposing efforts to enshrine discrimination in the United States Constitution and served as a leading voice against Proposition 8 in California,” Hammill said.
Hammill said Pelosi led efforts to pass hate crimes legislation as well as pass legislation in the House to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Hammill said the speaker “will keep pushing for action on ENDA.” Pelosi is being honored with an award from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund this week in Washington for her work on LGBT issues.
“San Franciscans know Nancy Pelosi’s commitment to fostering equality and ending discrimination,” Hammill said.
But one group that has criticized Pelosi for not moving forward with a House vote on ENDA is washing its hands of the race.
Robin McGehee, co-founder of GetEQUAL, which has staged acts of civil disobedience throughout the country over Pelosi’s inaction this Congress over ENDA, said voters in the speaker’s district should “determine for themselves how well she is representing [them] and fighting for their equality.”
“Our equality knows no political party; we are not beholden to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party,” McGehee said. “Whoever wins the election can expect us to hold them accountable on their commitments to the LGBT community.”
Dennis faces an uphill fight to unseat Pelosi -— to say the least — in the Democratic stronghold of California’s 8th congressional district, which includes San Francisco. Members of the Green Party often fare better than Republicans in the district.
Pelosi has consistently won election in the area since she first sought a U.S. House seat in 1988. Pelosi often wins these races with more than 80 percent of the vote.
Dennis also has major deficit against Pelosi in terms of fundraising. The speaker has raised nearly $2 million this campaign cycle while Dennis has $650,000, according to the most recent Federal Election Campaign reports.
Pelosi has $214,000 in cash on hand while Dennis has $58,000. Pelosi also has no campaign debt while Dennis has $53,000.
Still, Dennis said he sees a path to victory because his internal polling numbers show that Pelosi’s support is growing soft among independents and Democrats.
“If we win all the votes of people who say they won’t vote for her, plus have a good turnout for the Republicans, we’ll actually have enough votes to defeat her,” Dennis said.
Cooper acknowledged that Dennis is facing an “uphill battle” and said he thinks the Republican candidate realizes the challenge.
Still, Cooper said he thinks Pelosi could be vulnerable because of the number of House Democrats who are distancing themselves from Pelosi in campaign ads.
“There are Democrats trying to maintain their seats who don’t want her to come into their district, they don’t want her support and they don’t want to look like they’re affiliated with her as speaker even though they’re running as a Democrat,” Cooper said.
During his speech, Dennis acknowledged that running in San Francisco is “challenging” for a Republican and said he has to do “special things” to build support.
A recent web ad from the Dennis campaign depicts Pelosi as the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz” and criticizes her for leading the way in what the ad describes as rampant spending in Washington and burdensome taxation.
“It went viral,” Dennis said. “We were mentioned in a lot of shows. Jay Leno included us in his monologue. It’s been seen about 630,000 times. And I will say that there is a coven of witches in … New Jersey that vehemently oppose us over this.”
Dennis noted that he received the Log Cabin endorsement right after the publication of the ad, which he said shows, “I really am a friend of the Friends of Dorothy.”