April 6, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Obama kicks off 2012 re-election campaign

President Obama (Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama kicked off his re-election campaign this week as LGBT advocates urged supporters to continue backing him as the 2012 election approaches.

On Monday, Obama filed papers with the Federal Election Commission indicating that he would run for re-election and sent a letter to supporters via his campaign to pump them up for election season.

“We’re doing this now because the politics we believe in does not start with expensive TV ads or extravaganzas, but with you — with people organizing block-by-block, talking to neighbors, co-workers, and friends,” Obama wrote. “And that kind of campaign takes time to build.”

“So even though I’m focused on the job you elected me to do, and the race may not reach full speed for a year or more, the work of laying the foundation for our campaign must start today,” Obama continued.

Obama seems unlikely to face a serious challenger in the Democratic primaries. With his approval ratings rising to about 53 percent, according an Associated Press poll published last week, the president also heads into election season as a strong candidate against any Republican opponent in the general election.

Media outlets have speculated that Obama’s campaign could be the first in history that will raise $1 billion to propel a U.S. presidential candidate to the White House. As in 2008, Obama is expected to run strictly on donations from supporters and not to accept federal public financing.

Obama supporters noted the accomplishments he’s made for the LGBT community during his first term in office.

One of the steps the president has unilaterally taken is mandating hospitals that receive funding under Medicare and Medicaid offer visitation rights for same-sex couples and adding gender identity as a category of non-discrimination for federal workers. Under his administration, Congress also passed a hate crimes law inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity and legislation allowing for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Still, some campaign promises that Obama made to the LGBT community in 2008 remain unfulfilled. For example, Congress has yet to pass an Employment Non-Discrimination Act with protections based on both sexual orientation and gender identity and the Defense of Marriage Act, which Obama supported repealing it its entirety, still remains on the books.

Jamie Citron, director of the Democratic National Committee’s LGBT Leadership Council, said Obama’s accomplishments during his first term demonstrate why LGBT people should continue their support — and why many are already gearing up for the new campaign.

“I think that the president over the few years — especially looking at the some of the accomplishments — has made it very, very clear that he has the community’s back and that we are at the heart of his vision for this country moving forward,” Citron said.

Among the acts that Citron cited were making a record number of openly LGBT appointments, declaring DOMA to be unconstitutional and directing the Justice Department to no longer defend the law in court and taking on anti-bullying efforts that included holding a conference against student harassment at the White House.

“I think this adds up to a very clear stance on the part of the president that he has the LGBT community in mind,” Citron said. “It’s not the type of thing that the president does to be showy or to gain support; it’s because he believes it’s the right thing to do, and I think that’s important.”

As he maintained that Obama has acted on behalf on the LGBT community, Citron said that LGBT support is needed for the president as he heads into campaign season. Citron said the coalition that worked to elect Obama in 2008 needs to expand for success in 2012.

“The LGBT community is one that over the last few years has found its footing its incredible ways, has found its voice and has really — here in Washington and all over the country — made sure its voice is heard,” Citron said. “We’re going to need that type of energy and voice to make sure the accomplishments that I was just talking about are out there and LGBT Americans all across the country — in big towns and small — know about them as well.”

Many LGBT advocates are similarly urging continued backing of Obama in his re-election campaign.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, reiterated Obama’s accomplishments for the LGBT community during his first term in office.

“President Obama has been a steadfast advocate for LGBT families and the issues that are important to them,” Sainz said. “From the passage of the hate crimes protection act to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and countless other decisions to further equality, this president has made better the lives of millions in our community.”

Sainz noted HRC has not yet endorsed any presidential candidate for the 2012 election.

Michael Mitchell, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, similarly advocated for the president and touted the achievements that he has made thus far.

“Barack Obama was the right choice for America in 2008 and is still very much the right choice for America in 2012,” Mitchell said. “Because of the scores of actions beneficial to the LGBT community that the Obama administration has taken — all of which would have never happened under a GOP administration — President Obama is also the right choice for the LGBT community.”

But John Aravosis, the gay editor of AMERICAblog, said LGBT people should see more from Obama during his first term as they recommit to his re-election in 2012.

“We’re still a good year and a half until the presidential elections, but if the president continues along his current path — and finishes repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ signs an executive order on ENDA, and comes out in favor of marriage equality — I think the community could and should vigorously support his re-election,” Aravosis said. “He has ample time to show us that his recent renewed interest in our civil rights is sincere and sustained.”

The Republican National Committee has already capitalized on Obama’s support for the LGBT community in an attack on the president on the committee’s website that was launched on the day Obama announced he would pursue re-election.

Acts in support of the LGBT community are listed among the 10 things the RNC cites as “The Case Against Obama: Social Issues” on its “Hope Isn’t Hiring” page.

The LGBT-related items are “Despite It Being the Law of the Land, Obama Refused to Continue Defending the Defense of Marriage Act in Court,” “Obama Repealed ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ While U.S. Troops Are Still on the Battlefield” and “Obama Opposed California’s Prop 8 and Has Expanded Government Recognition of Same-Sex Couples.”

In a letter dated April 5, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, wrote to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to question why the Republican Party would attack Obama for acts that benefited the LGBT community.

“From the way in which certain issues are detailed, reasonable people would conclude that the RNC believes in discrimination against LGBT people,” Solmonese writes. “You sensationalize issues like hospital visitation rights for loving families and ending housing discrimination when the truth is Americans agree that these are the right things to do.”

The RNC didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the HRC letter.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization has spoken with the RNC about the anti-LGBT initiative and expressed disapproval.

“We are in communication with the RNC on this issue and have made it clear that this kind of divisive rhetoric is not what Americans voted for in 2010 and will hurt, rather than help Republicans in 2012,” Cooper said. “The RNC’s message that hope isn’t hiring is strong enough as an indictment of the Obama administration’s failures on leadership and the economy. There is no need to weaken that message by raising social issues in ways that turn off the average voter.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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