MIAMI — Two days before the hotly contested GOP presidential primary in Florida, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney beat his three remaining rivals by a lopsided margin Saturday night in a straw poll of gay Republican activists in the Sunshine State.
The poll of just 34 Log Cabin officers and active members from the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Tampa areas was billed as an unscientific sample of LGBT Republicans in the state.
It took place at an informal “cocktail caucus” of Log Cabin members at a Miami restaurant. In secret balloting, Romney received 24 votes, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich received 6 votes, Texas Congressman Ron Paul received 4 votes, and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania received no votes.
“It’s a reflection of some of our most active and politically informed members mostly from the Miami-Dade area,” said R. Clarke Cooper, president of the national Log Cabin Republicans organization.
Officials from the group’s Florida chapters said the outcome was consistent with anecdotal information they’ve received from club members and gay and lesbian Republicans across the state – that a majority of Florida’s LGBT Republicans, including those who initially backed former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, have shifted their support to Romney.
Huntsman has dropped out of the race and most political observers believe Paul has little chance of capturing the Republican nomination for president.
Shortly after Log Cabin’s cocktail caucus adjourned on Saturday evening, the Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald, and the Tampa Bay Times released the findings of a joint poll that showed a large majority of the state’s Republican voters were in agreement with the Log Cabin members.
The poll of 800 likely GOP voters showed Romney had a commanding lead of 42 percent, with Gingrich coming in second with 31 percent. Santorum came in third with 14 percent. Paul received 6 percent support from the GOP voter sample.
The Florida primary takes place on Tuesday. Thousands of GOP voters have already cast their bollots under the state’s early voting law.
Mimi Planas, co-director of Log Cabin Republicans of Miami, said her group organized the cocktail caucus in honor of members of the national Log Cabin Republicans board of directors, which met in Miami earlier in the day.
Planas, a Cuban American, was among several Hispanic Log Cabin members and officers that attended the caucus. The other co-director of the Miami chapter, Eddie Sierra, is also Cuban American.
Planas said her perception was that many LGBT Hispanic Republicans were in agreement with a majority of their straight counterparts in believing that Romney would be the best candidate to challenge President Obama in the general election in November.
“I can you tell that I, as a Republican gay voter, will be voting for Romney in the Republican primary and will support his campaign 100 percent,” said Planas, who works as an executive assistant to the president of a Miami company.
She acknowledges that Romney isn’t as supportive on LGBT issues as she would like, especially on the issue of same-sex marriage, which Romney opposes. But Planas and nearly all the others at the cocktail gathering who spoke with the Blade said their decision on which candidate to support for president was based on a wide range of issues in addition to LGBT issues.
“We see many of the LGBT Democrats as being one-issue voters,” said Planas. “We’re multi-issue voters who care a lot about a strong national defense, regulatory reform, and less, not more, government intrusion in the private sector.”
Jim Pease, president of the Tampa Bay Log Cabin Republicans chapter, said he’s developed a “sound bite” answer over the past ten years to the question by gay Democrats and others on why gay Republicans support a party or candidates that oppose LGBT rights.
“If you’re going to be a single-issue voter, than, yes, you’re going to have a problem,” he said. “But you’ve got to look at the whole picture. I’ve never found any candidate whose platform I agree with 100 percent.”
Pease added, “I have to look at what’s best for America. I want to keep America safe, I want a strong defense. I want a strong economy. I want to keep it so we have the liberties and the freedoms that we enjoy so we can be gay Republicans, so that we can be gay Democrats.”
Andy Eddy, president of the Log Cabin Chapter of Broward County, which includes the city of Fort Lauderdale, said he, too, is supporting Romney.
“I was originally supporting Huntsman and I was leaning toward Gingrich,” Eddy said. “But I was disappointed in a couple of things about Gingrich. I decided Romney would be the best person to win the Republican ticket in November 2012.”
Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum have each signed a pledge vowing to support a U.S. constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The anti-gay National Organization for Marriage sent the pledge to all Republican presidential candidates last year. Paul and Huntsman were the only two of the original ‘top tier’ candidates to decline to sign the pledge.
Cooper, who heads the national Log Cabin organization, and several officials with the group’s Florida chapters, including Eddy, said on Saturday that it would be unlikely that the national group would decline to support Romney in November should he win the nomination based on his position on gay marriage.
Cooper said Log Cabin traditionally waits to decide whether to endorse a Republican presidential candidate until the time of the GOP national convention.
In a controversial decision, the national Log Cabin Republicans group chose not to endorse President George W. Bush for re-election in 2004 based on Bush’s support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would add a permanent ban on same-sex marriage in the U.S. Constitution.
Eddy noted that Log Cabin’s action in 2004 left it open for its chapters throughout the country to endorse Bush, enabling the chapters to avoid sanctions or expulsion from their local or state Republican committees. A number of Log Cabin chapters, including those in Miami-Dade and Broward County in Florida, have been accepted as official arms of the Republican Party Committees in their respective counties or cities.
Cooper said he and other Log Cabin officials believe Romney’s position on gay marriage is more nuanced than that of President Bush in 2004, who actively backed a constitutional ban. Cooper said that Romney, while signing the National Organization for Marriage pledge, refused to sign a “far more extreme” pledge against gay marriage sent to him and other candidates by the Iowa based Christian conservative group The Family Leader.
According to Cooper, Log Cabin’s decision not to endorse Bush in 2004 under group’s then president Patrick Guerriero was also based, in part, on the national Republican Party’s strong backing of referendums in several states seeking to ban gay marriage.
Cooper said the party was using gay marriage as a “wedge issue” to divide the electorate and increase the turnout of conservative voters at the polls.
“Romney has said doing a constitutional amendment is not realistic and that’s not something that’s going to happen,” Cooper said. “So when you have candidates like him and Ron Paul saying that’s not a realistic option, that’s far different than from saying I’m going to push for a federal marriage amendment.”
Eddy said he and other Log Cabin members planned to attend a Romney rally Sunday afternoon in Pompano Beach near Fort Lauderdale.
Jerame Davis, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats, an LGBT group aligned with the Democratic Party, disputes Cooper’s view that Romney’s statement that a federal constitutional amendment seeking to ban gay marriage is not likely to be seriously considered offsets Romney’s support for NOM’s federal marriage amendment pledge.
“It’s the height of hypocrisy that Log Cabin would try to excuse Mitt Romney’s adoption of NOM’s insidious hate pledge,” Davis said. “In 2004, LCR took a principled stand and refused to endorse George W. Bush for his misguided push for a federal marriage amendment.”