Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the statewide coalition leading efforts to defend the state’s same-sex marriage law against an expected voter referendum, announced on April 11 that it has hired political strategist Josh Levin as the coalition’s new campaign manager.
Levin, 33, a Chicago native who has served as campaign manager for Democratic congressional candidates in Illinois and Ohio, will replace Sultan Shakir, who headed the successful campaign to pass the same-sex marriage measure in the Maryland General Assembly.
A statement released by the coalition says Shakir will become political director in the campaign to defeat a referendum seeking to kill the Civil Marriage Protection Act before it takes effect. Opponents of the law are currently gathering petition signatures needed to place it on the ballot in the November election.
“I’m thrilled to be part of the historic effort to ensure all families and their children have the same legal protections,” Levin said in a statement. “We have a number of advantages this election year, and the momentum is with us,” he said. “We’re confident of victory.”
Levin has served as campaign manager for several U.S. congressional candidates, including Tammy Duckworth in Illinois. He has also served as state director for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq in Illinois, a 2007 effort opposing President George W. Bush’s plans to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Levin also served as regional field director for the 2004 presidential campaign of Howard Dean and later that year worked as field director for the get-out-the-vote effort in Wisconsin for Americans Coming Together, an independent “527” committee supporting Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
“Josh’s campaign experience will be invaluable,” said Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in a statement. “I’m confident voters this fall will come down on the side of human dignity.”
Marylanders for Marriage Equality also released on April 11 results of a poll it commissioned from Hart Research polling firm showing that 51 percent of Maryland voters support upholding the same-sex marriage law, with 43 percent saying they oppose it.
The poll also shows that nearly 70 percent of Obama voters and 30 percent of those saying they would vote for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney support marriage equality.
The poll was conducted March 18-23 among 604 Maryland voters. Marylanders for Marriage Equality did not release the poll’s margin of error.
In an interview with the Blade this week, Levin was asked what makes him confident that the Maryland marriage equality law can survive a voter referendum when same-sex marriage laws have gone down to defeat in all other states that have subjected them to a referendum.
“I think it starts and very nearly ends with 52 percent, which is what the polling says is the portion of the electorate in Maryland that supports marriage equality,” he said. “We have a majority now. We need to grow that and we need to defend it,” he said.
“And we need to take advantage of everybody who has said they’re on our side and is going to help us work on this,” said Levin. “And that’s members of our coalition – the group that hired me, that’s the governor and his commitment. And we will continue to work with the fact that public opinion has changed on this issue and changed quickly in the last two years in Maryland.”
When asked about how voters in California overturned that state’s same-sex marriage law in 2008 after early polls showed voters would uphold the law, Levin said, “I think we learn lessons from every campaign. I learn lessons from every campaign I’ve been a part of.”
He added, “In no way are we going to take anything for granted in Maryland. We’re working hard in communities all across the state because we have supporters in communities all over the state.”
Levin said the main theme Marylanders for Marriage Equality will stress in the campaign is the importance of families.
“We’ve got thousands of committed couples across the state in committed, stable, caring homes and we simply want to make sure that they’re recognized,” he said. “This campaign is going to be about those Maryland families, those gay and lesbian families and their kids and making sure that those kids have the same legal protections that the children of straight families have.”
Asked if same-sex families will be visible in the campaign, Levin said, “Oh yeah – the campaign is all about families. This is a campaign about marriage and marriage is about families. So yes, front and center.”
Following are excerpts from the Blade’s interview with Levin this week.
Washington Blade: Could you tell a little about the campaigns you’ve been involved with in the past?
Josh Levin: Yes, sure. I think the biggest and most relevant ones to us today are the ones talked about in the press release. I was working for Tammy Duckworth back home in Illinois in her congressional primary this year and then for Mary Jo Kilroy, who is a member of Congress from Ohio in 2010. So most of my background is in candidate campaigns, especially congressional campaigns. The bottom line is I’m a campaign type person.
Blade: Do you see similar issues that will surface in this campaign, which is not for a candidate but for an issue?
Levin: I think so. Part of the reason I was hired is because we’re turning the page now to the ballot effort. And I think that my experience is running campaigns with budgets and a staff that we’re going to need like this one and getting everything lined up and moving in the right direction, which is the biggest thing we’re going to need going into November.
Blade: In the course of getting ready for this campaign, have you had a chance to look at past same-sex marriage campaigns that went to referendum in some of the other states like California’s Proposition 8 and the campaign in Maine?
Levin: Sure, and we have been looking at it. We’ve been looking at both what is successful for the folks on our side of the issue and where we fall short. We’re looking at what our opponents are likely to do and what we can expect in terms of opposition. But the great thing is sitting here in Maryland we have some momentum and we have good reason to be confident right now based on what we have seen in other places but especially the unique experiences here in Maryland.
Blade: Are you expecting any particular tactics by the opponents once they obtain the signatures needed to place the referendum on the ballot?
Levin: We’re aware of what has been done in other places, and we expect to see some of the same. There were some documents just a couple of weeks ago that lay out some of the potential strategy that our opponents might follow. But as I said, I think we have a base of knowledge that is going to be helpful to us because of that.
Blade: Is there a budget that the campaign has or do you know what the budget will be in order to wage a successful campaign?
Levin: I don’t think I’m ready to put a number on it but it is going to be significant. The folks who raised the legislative campaign were successful in raising money for that. And I think we’re going to need to go both that and beyond to be successful for the fall. We’re going to have to be out there organizing an awful lot of communities. We’re going to have to get our message out to an awful lot of channels. The governor has already clearly made a commitment. He was up in Connecticut a couple of weeks ago raising money for us. And we have great partners at the table who are raising money from their members and other folks across the state.