Despite the lobbying efforts of a coalition of antigay conservative groups pushing for a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, several senators locked in close reelection bids say they have not felt pressure from their constituents to support the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment. Senate minority leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, considered to be one of 24 "high-priority" senators targeted for a pressure campaign by the coalition, spent the July 4 weekend campaigning across his state, according to a report in the congressional newspaper The Hill. Although the coalition sent out updates on where Daschle and other senators would be appearing, Daschle campaign spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said same-sex marriage was not on the minds of the crowds. The constitutional amendment, which would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, "didn't come up once," Pfeiffer told The Hill. "We've heard from almost no one." Staffers in Daschle's Washington office also said that as of Friday they had not fielded phone calls on the amendment.
The amendment is scheduled to come before the full Senate next Monday. Although observers expect it will not pass, supporters hope the vote will give constituents an accurate picture of where each senator stands on an issue that has energized both antigay and pro-gay activists. Daschle, who is running against former Republican representative John Thune, is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the Senate. Thune lost by only 524 votes when he ran against Democratic senator Tim Johnson two years ago. Pfeiffer told The Hill he had "no doubt" that Thune would use Daschle's vote on the amendment in his campaign but said he believed voters would be more focused on "pocketbook issues." Daschle has said he opposes same-sex marriage but would not support a constitutional amendment. Pfeiffer added that conservative groups are targeting South Dakota "because they want to influence an election in November rather than a Senate vote in July."
The coalition, headed by the antigay Family Research Council, is urging activists and constituents to contact several other senators up for reelection in potentially close contests, including Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, both Republicans. Tom McClusky, director of government affairs for the Family Research Council, acknowledged that the lobbying effort was an attempt to influence the election, even if just to let voters know where each senator stands on the issue. With a vote on the books well before November, McClusky said, the amendment debate could have an impact, particularly in close races. "In the tight races, sometimes it breaks down to a single issue," he said.