August 1, 2018 at 3:00 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
With Election Day nearing, LGBT groups ramp up efforts against Trump

LGBT rights supporters are seeking to channel the energy of the resist movement into action in Election 2018. (Photo by Mark Dixon; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

With fewer than 100 days remaining before the 2018 congressional mid-term elections, LGBT groups are ramping up efforts to channel the “resist” movement into action on Election Day and elect a new Congress able to place a check on President Trump.

Chief among those efforts is the Human Rights Campaign’s #TurnOUT campaign, a $26 million effort that seeks to mobilize and get to the polls the estimated 10 million Americans who identify as LGBT and 52 million Americans who support pro-LGBT policies.

Leading the effort is Geoff Wetrosky, the campaign director for HRC Rising who came to the organization last year after serving as national campaign manager for the AFL-CIO with more than a decade of experience.

In a briefing with the Washington Blade last week, Wetrosky said the campaign is engaging HRC members and calling on them to volunteer and put together a training curriculum “to make sure that we’re strengthening our political organizing muscles.”

Additionally, HRC is touting its doubling of staffers to 130 — the hiring of another 45 organizers and the deployment of 50 more to join the 35 already on the ground — to contribute to get-out-the-vote efforts.

“I’ve referred to some of them as the cavalry,” Wetrosky said. “They go where the fight needs to be fought at any given moment. They cover large regions of the country. They do live out in the field, but they’re responsible for several states, and if there’s a legislative battle or particular election that’s competitive, then they go to that state and work on that race.”

Wetrosky called the 2018 elections “a historical moment for the LGBTQ community” at a time when — unlike in decades past — support for LGBT rights will drive people to the polls in opposition to Trump.

“We’re now at a point where we can no longer be used as a wedge issue to turn out anti-equality voters in support of anti-equality candidates,” Wetrosky said. “That is an outdated playbook.”

As evidence that opposition to LGBT rights is a losing position for candidates, Wetrosky pointed to the defeat in 2016 of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed into law the anti-trans House Bill 2, the loss in Alabama last year of Roy Moore, whose call to disregard the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling for same-sex marriage nationwide animated his political career. Both candidates were running as Republicans in traditionally “red” states, but were unable to achieve victory.

Meanwhile, support for same-sex marriage, once an unpopular concept, has reached 67 percent, and popularity of non-discrimination laws that would protect LGBT workers is even higher.

“That level of support across demographic groups would have been unthinkable just a few years ago,” Wetrosky said.

The #TurnOUT campaign has identified six states — Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — on which to focus its efforts.

The commonality in each of these states is elections for seats in the U.S. Senate. Political candidates Jacky Rosen in Nevada and Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona offer the chance for pickups to claim seats formerly held by Republicans. (Sinema would also be the first openly bisexual person elected to the U.S. Senate.)

In the four other states, U.S. senators who support LGBT rights — Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) — are defending their seats. Baldwin, the first out lesbian elected to the U.S. Senate, is seeking re-election against efforts to unseat her by the Koch brothers, who have already spent around $10 million in the effort and are likely to spend more.

Those six states, Wetrosky said, also offer opportunities beyond the races for U.S. Senate, such as statewide contests to become the next governor, attorney general and secretary of state, as well as two dozen congressional races and races for seats in the state legislature.

Chris Sgro, a spokesperson for HRC, said victories in those elections will be key to halting the Trump administration and the anti-LGBT policies it has enacted.

“The road to pulling an emergency break on Trump and Pence runs through the six HRC Rising states,” Sgro said. “The Senate races there, key House races there, and subsequently the road to altogether stopping Donald Trump and ending his presidency runs though the 81 electoral votes in those states.”

Baldwin’s race in Wisconsin could be a nail-biter. The good news for her in three separate polls was she had a sizable lead over either of her potential Republican opponents — Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson — that in some cases was double-digits. The Aug. 14 primary in Wisconsin will decide which Republican Baldwin will face.

The flip side is that in 2016 Democratic candidate Russ Feingold had the same lead over Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) before ultimately losing to the incumbent. (It was the second time Feingold lost to Johnson in a U.S. Senate race. The Republican ousted Feingold from the seat in 2010 during the Republican wave that year.)

Moreover, buried in one of the three polls  — one conducted by Marquette University — was other revealing information: Baldwin was viewed unfavorably by 43 percent of Wisconsin residents, slightly more than 41 percent who viewed her favorably. An additional 15 percent said they didn’t know her enough to form an opinion.

As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Baldwin’s opponents will likely see those numbers as an opportunity to define her for Wisconsin voters and continue massive spending on TV ads in the effort to unseat her.

Other LGBT groups are joining in the effort to encourage LGBT people to head to the polls on Election Day to vote against Trump in the name of LGBT rights.

The LGBT media watchdog group GLAAD is unable to endorse specific candidates as a 501(c)3 designated non-profit, but is nonetheless undertaking efforts.

Chief among them is GLAAD’s “Amp Your Voice” LGBT youth voter engagement campaign, which seeks to focus on increasing LGBTQ youth turnout for the midterm elections. Additionally, GLAAD during Pride month sent a traveling billboard throughout the country reading, “GLAAD is Counting: 75 Attacks on our community, 1 every 6 days since January 2017, It’s Time to Stop,” to encourage awareness and voter turnout.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, said the participation of LGBT youth and allies will be crucial to achieving change in the upcoming election.

“Young people in this country are at the forefront of articulating the connection between the perilousness of their rights and safety under the Trump administration and the power of their own voices to create change.” Ellis said. “GLAAD’s ‘Amp Your Voice’ campaign will further empower young people, especially LGBTQ youth and allies, in their leadership roles.”

For LGBT rights supporters who are seeking to back Republicans who support LGBT rights, you would have to turn to Log Cabin Republicans.

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization’s political action committee will largely base its support for candidates in 2018 on co-sponsorship of the Fair & Equal Housing Act, LGBT housing non-discrimination legislation introduced by Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.).

“Our main legislative push in this 215th Congress has been Congressman Taylor’s Fair & Equal Housing Act, and the priorities of our PAC will largely be aligned with supporting those Republican members of Congress who co-sponsored this historic legislation,” Angelo said. “Generally, our efforts will be geared toward assisting incumbent allies.”

In years past, the Human Rights Campaign has faced criticism from progressives for endorsing Republican candidates, such as former Sen. Mark Kirk in Illinois in 2016. (HRC ended up dropping that endorsement in favor Tammy Duckworth after racially charged comments from Kirk.)

In response to whether the Human Rights Campaign has endorsed any Republican candidates in 2018, Sgro said via email the organization maintains its bipartisan approach and additional endorsements are forthcoming.

“We’ve endorsed a record number of pro-equality candidates up and down the ballot this year in key races across the country,” Sgro said. “We will continue to make and announce our endorsements throughout the cycle. HRC is a bipartisan organization that has endorsed candidates from both parties who support LGBTQ rights.”

Wetrosky cautioned that supporters of LGBT rights seeking change in the congressional mid-term elections can’t just talk about Trump’s anti-LGBT policies, but also policies that have hurt Muslims, immigrants and other marginalized groups.

“There’s always more that we can do,” Wetrosky said. “But there’s also been a recognition that we need to go beyond self-identified LGBTQ voters and talk about our issues because somebody being anti-equality is a motivating factor in turning out our voters as well.”

What will LGBT supporters seek after victories in the mid-term elections? Wetrosky said HRC won’t just stick it to Trump, but work to advance LGBT rights.

“We’re not building political power just for the sake of having political power,” Wetrosky said. “We want to use it to advance equality. There’s so much still to be done. We know from polling the public understands that marriage wasn’t the end of our movement’s work to achieve full legal equality. There’s still so much more to do that’s at the federal level and the state level.”

In the event Democrats take control of the U.S. House, Sgro said a top priority of HRC would be advancement of the Equality Act, comprehensive legislation that would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in every aspect of federal civil rights law.

But that all depends on victories on Election Day. Despite the efforts to achieve change in 2018, Wetrosky cautioned the anticipated “blue” wave may fizzle out if Trump opponents aren’t energized.

“If we don’t make sure the wave is large enough, the wave will crash right into the sea wall,” Wetrosky said.

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

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