FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Gay Republicans joined many of their straight counterparts in Florida Tuesday night in congratulating former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for his decisive victory in the Florida Republican primary.
But R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans, while also congratulating Romney, cautioned him against engaging in “anti-gay pandering or divisive social politics.”
Cooper told the Blade his comment was a reference to statements Romney has made in news media interviews over the past several months in which he appeared to be appealing to conservative voters hostile to gay rights.
Officials with Log Cabin’s chapters in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa areas said support for Romney was strong among LGBT Republicans in the state. Romney won by a lopsided margin in a Jan. 28 straw poll of Log Cabin members at an informal gay Republican caucus in Miami.
“I’m pleased that Romney won,” said Andy Eddy, board member of Log Cabin Republicans of Broward County, which includes the city of Fort Lauderdale and the nearby gay enclave Wilton Manors.
“Many of our members support him and believe he has the best chance of beating Obama,” he said.
With 100 percent of the election precincts counted, Romney captured 46 percent of the vote. His closest rival, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich received 32 percent, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum received 13 percent, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul received 7 percent.
In Florida’s winner take all primary, Romney captured 50 delegates, giving him a boost going into a series of upcoming primaries and caucuses leading up to Super Tuesday on March 6, when 10 states hold primaries.
“This big win for Gov. Romney makes it all but certain that he will emerge as the nominee of the Republican Party,” said Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the gay conservative group GOProud.
“Gov. Romney’s win tonight is particularly pivotal given the size of the state and the importance Florida will have in electing the next president,” he said. “Gov. Romney’s message of economic hope and renewal has clearly resonated with the voters of Florida.
“The truth that neither Barack Obama nor his friends in the liberal media want to discuss is that most Americans, gay or straight, are no better off than they were in 2008 and that is a product of Obama’s failed big government policies,” said LaSalvia, who personally endorsed Romney earlier this month.
Cooper said Log Cabin has a longstanding rule of not endorsing presidential candidates until the time of the Republican National Convention. He said on Tuesday night that the timing of the club’s endorsement vote is strictly “administrative” in nature and has no bearing on the group’s views of Romney.
During the Log Cabin caucus in Miami on Jan. 28, which followed a national Log Cabin board meeting, Cooper and officials with Log Cabin chapters in Florida said the group’s members clearly were leaning toward backing Romney.
Hastings Wyman, editor of Southern Political Report, a newsletter specializing in reporting on politics in the South, characterized as “remarkable” Romney’s dramatic rise in popularity in Florida. He noted that Romney had been trailing Gingrich in the Sunshine State by double digits in the days following Gingrich’s win in the South Carolina primary.
“I think the biggest single factor was money,” said Wyman, in referring to Romney’s lopsided lead over Gingrich and the other three GOP contenders in money raised for his campaign.He said Romney’s large campaign war chest enabled him to purchase a barrage of negative TV ads that clearly hurt Gingrich. Gingrich’s campaign fired back with negative ads attacking Romney, prompting some state Republican leaders to express concern that the negative campaigns waged by both Romney and Gingrich could hurt them in their race against Obama should either of them win the nomination.
“I also think Romney did much better in the last two debates in Florida,” Wyman said. “Gingrich just didn’t look as strong. The performance and appearance in the debates by Romney was much better.”
Wyman, who is gay, said it’s hard to predict how Romney will deal with gay issues if he’s elected president.
“I think he would be perfectly comfortable in supporting civil rights for gays,” he said. “But I don’t’ think he would do anything to hurt him politically. I think he would be somewhat better than the others, but he’s not going to do anything to upset his base.”
In his election night statement, Cooper of Log Cabin Republicans cautioned Romney and the other GOP presidential candidates that adopting a “big tent” policy inclusive of gays would be the best tactic for the Republican presidential nominee to defeat Obama in November.
“Our local chapter leaders report that, like Florida voters overall, Log Cabin members in the Sunshine State were drawn to Romney’s business sense and clear plan to return America to prosperity through a strong private sector,” Cooper said.
“Still, there remain serious reservations about recent statements by Romney to so-called ‘pro-family’ groups,” Cooper said. “The real question now is whether Romney can win a majority of Americans, including younger voters, independents and disaffected Democrats,” he said. “Log Cabin Republicans are looking for a candidate who can rebuild the big tent, unite our party and claim a mandate to restore liberty and fiscal responsibility to the United States. Whether that candidate is Romney remains to be seen.”
Jerame Davis, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats, an LGBT group that is backing Obama, said Romney’s win in the Florida primary was due to his ability to “outspend and throw more mud than all of his opponents combined.”
He called Romney “a very unpopular frontrunner” whose support is not as strong as the “not-Romney” wing of the Republican Party.
Although the conservative GOProud and more moderate Log Cabin leaders often disagree over how the LGBT community should interact with the Republican Party, the two groups appeared to be in agreement this week over how to secure LGBT votes for Romney if he wins the nomination for president.
Both LaSalvia and Log Cabin members in Florida said they would stress that LGBT people, like all other voters, care about issues beyond gay rights. While Romney may not be as supportive or outspoken on LGBT issues as Obama, they said they will stress that Romney’s economic policies would help gays where it counts the most, “in their wallets and pocketbooks,” as Log Cabin’s Tampa chapter president Jim Pease said.
“So why do I think gays will do well under Romney?” asked gay Republican activist Jim Driscoll, a former Bush administration appointee to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. “Romney’s opposition to discrimination against gays in jobs, etc., is genuine. He is not uncomfortable with gay people.”
Gay Democrats argue that unlike Obama, Romney hasn’t taken a position on whether he would support and sign the Employment Non-Discrimination, or ENDA, which would ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Attempts by the Blade this week to reach a Romney campaign spokesperson to determine Romney’s position on ENDA and other pending LGBT-related bills in Congress were unsuccessful.
LaSalvia notes that Obama has said he doesn’t support same-sex marriage. Gay Democrats respond by saying Obama has supported virtually all other items on the LGBT rights agenda, including repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in states that have legalized them.
In what will likely emerge as the gay Republicans’ key talking point in the fall general election, LaSalvia said gays are not “one-issue” voters.
“Something I say a lot, is especially true when contrasting Obama’s policies with any of the Republican candidates, is that I believe that free market solutions benefit all Americans, but especially gay Americans,” he said.
“Whether it’s Social Security reform that includes private inheritable accounts, free market health care reform that would allow same-sex partners to go on the open market and purchase family plans, or tax reform to make the tax code simpler and fairer, Romney and the other Republican candidates are offering solutions to problems facing all of us that are far better for our country than Obama’s failed policies,” LaSalvia said.
Davis from National Stonewall Democrats said most LGBT voters will dismiss such arguments as “ridiculous.” He said NSD and the Democratic Party has and will continue to show that Obama comes out far ahead on LGBT and non-LGBT issues.
Davis said both Log Cabin and GOProud were downplaying what he called Romney’s most anti-gay stand – his agreement to sign a pledge issued by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage to support a U.S. constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
“It’s the height of hypocrisy” that gay Republicans would attempt to excuse Romney’s support for the NOM pledge, Davis said.
“They should be ashamed for excusing any of these GOP swindlers for pandering to these regressive demagogues who seek to not only take away our rights, but persecute us back into the closet,” he said.
A random, unscientific sample of interviews with 14 gay men at Fort Lauderdale’s gay beach on Tuesday appeared to confirm the longstanding leanings of that city’s LGBT community. All 14 said they strongly support the re-election of Barack Obama and would be unlikely to vote for any Republican.
“As a gay man, I won’t vote for any Republican, said Al Adamczyk, a longtime Fort Lauderdale resident. I’m gay and I’m proud of it. Gay Republicans are idiots.”
Daniel Jeffers, a gay Air Force veteran who just moved to Fort Lauderdale with his partner, Jerry Finster, said the two believe Obama has been good on both gay and non-gay issues and would never consider voting for a Republican candidate for president.
“Some gays want him to do more,” said Finster of Obama. “He is doing everything possible. I think independents will vote for him. The Republicans are a joke. Out of a scale of five stars, I have six stars for Obama.”