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HRC rolls out 2008 election strategy
HRC rolls out 2008 election strategy
by Lisa Keen - Keen News Service

CNN Democratic pundit Paul Begala told reporters in a telephone conference call Monday that, after the 2006 mid-term elections, the Human Rights Campaign was ranked "one of top two most successful political organizations in the whole country." A more precise statement would have been that HRC had the second-best win-lose record in supporting candidates when among 20 labor, liberal, and conservative organizations that the National Journal studied. But there is no denying that HRC, the largest, most visible, and most moneyed LGBT political organization in the country, is working hard to put its money and its people where they can do the most to advance equal rights for LGBT people in the 2008 elections.

During Monday's conference call with Begala, HRC President Joe Solmonese promised the organization would spend $7 million in the coming months to "train and place" HRC members and supporters in "targeted campaigns" of the 2008 election. He said the effort, dubbed "The Year to Win," would also "reach 5 million GLBT Americans" through get-out-the-vote efforts at more than 100 Pride events. And he announced that many of the organization's existing informational tools about politicians would now be made available through one new website, www.hrc.org/YearToWin.

But the organization is staying silent on the current most contentious race of 2008 - the Democratic presidential nomination. And it is making no endorsement in the North Carolina Senate Democratic primary - where openly Gay candidate Jim Neal has mounted a bid.

"Sexual orientation [of a candidate] matters," says Solmonese, "but lots of things get factored into our decision-making." Both Neal and his chief Democratic opponent, Kay Hagen, have strong pro-Gay civil rights records and the LGBT community, says Solmonese, is split between them. Solmonese said HRC would let voters sort out the Democratic nominee May 6 in North Carolina before HRC lends its support to the nominee who will oppose Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole.

Ditto on the Democratic presidential race. Solmonese says HRC is not making an endorsement now because the LGBT community is "pretty evenly divided" between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and because it is "virtually impossible to make a distinction" based on their records on Gay issues. On Monday's conference call, a reporter asked Solmonese whether he was concerned about what the community might read into HRC's inviting Begala - a well-known Clinton supporter - to participate in the call at a time when that contest is "about as heated and divided as it could be." "No," said Solmonese, "I hadn't thought about that until you just mentioned it."

"We work every day with people who are supporting Senator Obama and supporting Senator Clinton," said Solmonese. "The key political strategists that we work with are as divided on this as the GLBT community is." Solmonese said he invited Begala to participate in the call simply to "give an outsider's view of what the electoral landscape looks like right now."

Despite eschewing these two races, HRC did announce its endorsement for 14 U.S. Senate candidates this year - 13 Democrats and one Republican, including:

oincumbent U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) over his primary challenger Ed O'Reilly. O'Reilly supports equal marriage rights, something Kerry opposed when he was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004. Last month, a Kerry spokesperson issued a statement saying Kerry's position has "evolved" since then. Despite Kerry's imperfections, Solmonese said he "has done incredible work for our community" and is likely to be re-elected, another factor which HRC considers. Although there have been no polls yet on a Kerry-O'Reilly head-to-head, polls testing Kerry versus better known challengers suggest Kerry would breeze to re-election; and

oincumbent U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) over popular pro-Gay Democrat Tom Allen. Collins, the lone Republican HRC has backed so far this year, does not necessarily have a breezy ride to re-election. While Allen is polling 20 points behind, there is a large "undecided" block. And Allen's "score" with HRC on Gay-related legislation was a perfect 100 in the last Congressional session, compared to Collins' 86.

All but four of HRC's other endorsements in the Senate races are for incumbent Democrats, including Dick Durbin of Illinois, Joe Biden of Delaware, Carl Levin of Michigan, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Max Baucus of Montana, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. The organization is backing two Democrats - Mark Udall in Colorado and Tom Udall in New Mexico - who are seeking to fill seats being made vacant by Republican resignations. And it is backing two Democrats - Jeanne Shaheen in Vermont and Al Franken in Minnesota - who are challenging Republican incumbents.

Solmonese also told reporters Monday that HRC will be investing in efforts to defeat two anti-Gay marriage ballot measures in November - one in California and one in Florida.

©2008 Keen News Service

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