The Margin of Victory

Article excerpt

Gays voted overwhelmingly for Gore, but Bush's gay support may have hurt Democrats in the close election

Few would argue that Election Day 2000 was unprecedented. For gays and lesbians, the results offered some gains in local races. But despite a huge gay turnout for Democrats nationwide, Ed Flanagan lost his U.S. Senate bid, and Maine's gay rights measure failed. One positive sign: Vermont voters stood by the state's civil unions law, proving that progress, once made, is permanent.

On the eve of the presidential election, Al Gore capped two straight days of campaigning without sleep with a massive outdoor rally in South Beach, a heavily gay and lesbian enclave just outside Miami. Drenched in sweat, his voice hoarse from exhaustion, the vice president implored voters to reach one more Democratic coworker, neighbor, and family member and take them to the polls that Tuesday.

Gore's appeal made no direct reference to gay causes. But the symbolism of the appearance could not have been clearer. The Democratic Party was counting on its most loyal constituencies--Jews, African-Americans, labor union members, gays and lesbians--to push its ticket over the top in the closest presidential race in American history.

"The fact that Gore made South Beach his final stop was astounding," says Robert Bailey, who has studied the gay vote as associate professor of public policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "While, of course, he was appealing to a number of different groups, it really says a lot about the power of the gay vote to swing national elections, especially in the key battleground states."

Murray Edelman, editorial director of Voter News Service, the polling arm of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, CNN, and the Associated Press, also finds the event noteworthy: "There's no question about it. In the closing days of the campaign, Gore's last chance was in motivating his base, and gays and lesbians were a substantial part of his base. They went to bat for him."

But the Log Cabin Republicans boast that the gay vote provided the margin of victory in Florida--for George W. Bush. Working in conjunction with the Bush campaign, Log Cabin chapters in Broward County and Tampa, key Florida battlegrounds, turned out gay Republicans and independents in droves for Bush. "We know for a fact that what we did in Florida made a huge difference for the Republicans," says Kevin Ivers, director of public affairs for Log Cabin. "Look how tight it was. We were the difference. The Bush campaign knew what we did for them in Florida because high-level officials told us after the election how much they appreciated our work. They told us what we did there would not be forgotten."

Indeed, the gay vote is the untold story of the 2000 presidential election. By all accounts, the Democrats' get-out-the-gay-vote strategy was a success, despite the claims of gay Republicans.

While the overall winner of the election remained in question by The Advocate's press time, exit polls indicated that 71% of gay voters cast ballots for Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, slightly higher than the 66% Clinton and Gore received in 1996 and 1% less than what the Democrats received in 1992. Bush attracted about 25% of the gay vote, and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader 4%, slightly higher than his national share of 3%. Not surprisingly, gay support for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan, who made opposition to gay rights central to his platform, did not register in the exit polls. All told, self-identified gays and lesbians represented 4% of the popular vote. The only groups able to deliver a more unified bloc to Gore were Jews and African-Americans, who voted Democratic in proportions of nearly 80% and 90%, respectively.

The gay vote was crucial not just for the candidates. With the ideological composition of the White House, Supreme Court, and Congress hanging in the balance, the outcome of the election is widely seen as crucial to the fate of the nation's gay political agenda. …