Amendment One Opponents: Have Momentum, Need Money

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com April 23 2012 11:00 AM ET

Opponents of Amendment One, the constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in North Carolina, say their campaign is “winnable,” but they need people around the country to focus on the May 8 vote.

With just over two weeks until the vote on a far-reaching constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and other unions in North Carolina, opponents of the measure say that momentum is building for their side, but more support from national donors will be critical to making their “winnable” campaign a reality.

In a conference call with bloggers on Sunday night, spokespeople for Protect All North Carolina Families, the coalition working to defeat the amendment, expressed optimism that North Carolina could remain the only Southern state without a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage when voters go to the polls on May 8. The potential win would represent a major turning point in a long-running losing streak on such ballot initiatives across the country.

Jeremy Kennedy, campaign manager, provided an update as the campaign enters its final 15 days. He described an effort in full get-out-the vote mode with seven offices across the state, a “robust” field operation with 10,000 volunteer hours anticipated, and 350,000 phone calls made in the past few months. In addition, some 50,000 North Carolinians already have cast ballots in early voting that began last Thursday, including 1200 ballots cast at Duke University in Durham, representing about one-third of the students on campus. Polls indicate that voters aged 18 to 34 overwhelmingly support marriage equality.

“Two weeks out, I’ve never felt more optimistic than I have about this campaign,” he said. “This really shows the grassroots efforts surrounding this.”

Kennedy said that $95,000 had been raised toward a $100,000 dollar-for-dollar matched proposed by straight philanthropist Todd Stiefel last week. Some $600,000 has been raised online, most of it in smaller donations around $100, with 80% coming from North Carolina.

Money was urgently needed to produce and place the first two television ads against Amendment One that began airing across the state early Monday morning. The ads focus on the far-reaching effects of the amendment, which as worded says that, “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be recognized or valid in this State.” Analysts warn this broad approach could have unanticipated effects, such as the elimination of health care coverage for the children of domestic partners, or the loss of court-ordered protection for domestic violence survivors if their non-married status with their attackers is no longer recognized.

Mark Armour, who produced the ads with business partner Chad Griffin, said research indicated that people were moved most by messages about the amendment’s “unintended consequences.” He said that by touching on the sensitive topics of children and domestic violence, the ads mark a departure from previous campaigns by adopting the hard-hitting tactics long employed by opponents.

“This is a fundamentally different, aggressive and unprecedented approach in a fight of this type,” he said. “We have to reach people on a more visceral level here and that’s what we tried to do.”

Joshua Ulibarri, of Lake Research, said that online surveys and polling indicated that the ads moved voters to a 50-50 split on Amendment One. A Public Policy Polling survey from late March showed that 58 percent of voters supported the amendment and 38 percent opposed it, but opposition increased when voters, one-third of whom did not fully understand the proposal, learned that it also banned civil unions. The impact of the two new ads will not be measurable in polling for at least another week.

Armour said the campaign had made “a solid ad buy for a couple weeks” that will allow the two ads to run while remaining open to adjustments based on how Amendment One proponents respond in the final days of the campaign. Supporters of the constitutional ban will unveil their own advertising in all major media markets, and Armour said his team was especially concerned about their radio component and activity in African-American churches, the extent of which remains unknown. Blacks represent 22% of the population in North Carolina, according to the 2010 Census.

“We need to increase our budget significantly,” said Armour, who noted that the coalition needed to create a two-to-one spending advantage. “We are not outspending them significantly."

Kennedy said the campaign’s fund-raising had surpassed $1.5 million, more than half of that total raised in the last three weeks, although he declined to provide a more specific figure. He suggested that if previous campaigns in other states offered any indication, the campaign could raise hundreds of thousands more, but “the next week really is going to be critical” for money to arrive with enough time to spent strategically. Donors on both sides of the Proposition 8 battle spent $83 million in California, the most populous state with some of the country’s most expensive media markets, by comparison.

Griffin, the incoming president of the Human Rights Campaign, said that the presidential primary and Congressional contests had made it “really difficult to focus national donors outside the state” on the ballot measure, and the distraction extends to the national press corps. In addition to North Carolina, voters are being presented with ballot measures in Minnesota and Maine, and campaigns are likely in Maryland and Washington if opponents of new marriage equality laws can qualify their ballot initiatives as expected.

“I think it’s now time for all of us to take the next step and wake the country up,” said Griffin. “It’s time to sound the alarm bells around the country.”

Griffin praised the bipartisan coalition against Amendment One, which now includes David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, who testified in favor of Prop. 8 during the 2010 federal trial. Griffin is board president of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which brought the case against Prop. 8, and he said the fact that he and Blankenhorn stand on the same side in North Carolina “says a lot.”

“I hope this will prove to be a model for many campaigns to come,” he said.

Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, also an AFER board member, agreed about the game-changing potential of the campaign, saying during the call that, “I actually think this is a winnable race. I do believe this will become the model of how we win.”

Black specifically challenged the thousands of donors and political insiders planning to attend the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, warning that “it will be their fault” if they fail to pay attention now and find themselves traveling to a state with a same-sex marriage ban in September. President Obama issued a statement against the amendment last month, as he did for Minnesota this month, but the coalition has also requested assistance in the form of robocalls from high-level party surrogates and a “sizable” financial contribution.

“Before they give another $100,000 for a VIP package, they need to contribute to this effort to defeat discrimination in North Carolina,” said Black.

His comments underscored the urgent message of the coalition. They believe that the campaign against Amendment One can be won, but more money is needed, in larger amounts and from a wider net of sources, as soon as possible.

“There’s a lot of gay and lesbian donors who are able to write six-figure checks,” said Black. “What I don’t think they know yet is what we’ve heard on this call, that this is winnable.”

Watch the new ads against Amendment One, now airing across North Carolina.