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All Politics Is

All Politics Is


Senator Obama has taken a targeted approach to LGBT outreach at different times in this race. Now if he would just apply the same philosophy to gay media.

1,536. That's the number of days since Sen. Barack Obama has spoken to the local LGBT press, according to the April 18-24, 2008, cover of the Philadelphia Gay News.

During my interview this month with Senator Obama, he said, "The gay press may feel like I'm not giving them enough love. But basically, all press feels that way at all times." That is true. Even reporters from some large mainstream outlets have long-standing interview requests with the senator that haven't come to fruition.

Then Senator Obama added, "We tend not to do a whole bunch of specialized press. We try to do general press for a general readership." Upon review, the LGBT press is running at a deficit in terms of access to Obama relative to other interest-group media. In combined print and broadcast, Senator Obama has done at least eight interviews with African-American outlets and at least five interviews with the Spanish-language press (a listing is included at the end of this article). To date, he has done two interviews with LGBT media.

Regarding Senator Obama's greater visibility in other specialty press, his spokesman Ben LaBolt said, "Our campaign has built an aggressive LGBT outreach program that has helped us rack up victories in cities with large LGBT populations like San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, and Columbus, and has included two interviews with The Advocate, two op-eds in LGBT papers, and print advertisements that directly appealed to the LGBT community."

LaBolt echoed Senator Obama's comments from our interview that the campaign has made a point of not "segmenting the electorate into different demographic groups" but instead uniting people across a spectrum. "In addition to speaking with supportive groups, Obama has taken a message of equal rights for LGBT Americans to audiences that are less receptive, challenging homophobia time and again," said LaBolt. "Our campaign has and will continue to be in continuous contact with the LGBT press, and expect to conduct additional interviews with them in the coming months."

Though Senator Obama's interaction with the LGBT media is perhaps one measure of how he prioritizes the community, the fundamental question many are asking is, Which candidate, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, would more fully incorporate LGBT people into their administration and advance our cause? While it's impossible to answer that question without a crystal ball, looking at a combination of their outreach efforts, political team, and press availability yields some nuanced insights that may have as much to do with their standing in the race as it does with their commitment to queer issues.

First off, both candidates have out LGBT people in the upper echelons of their campaign: Steve Hildebrand, Senator Obama's deputy national campaign manager, is often referred to as simply "Obama's number 2." On Senator Clinton's side, Guy Cecil, former political director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, serves as the campaign's national political and field director.

In terms of their outreach efforts, the two candidates have taken separate paths. Mark Walsh, Clinton's LGBT outreach director, was hired about a year ago by the New York senator to head up her LGBT steering committee. For Senator Obama, LGBT efforts are juggled between several people -- Tobias Wolff, Stampp Corbin, Eric Stern, and Matt Nosanchuk -- all of whom volunteer their time to the campaign.

This typifies the initial approaches of both campaigns. Clinton took a highly proactive top-down management approach to attracting gays and lesbians to her campaign, committing a portion of her campaign funds to the concept of having one person steward that process. Meanwhile, Obama employed more of a grassroots philosophy -- get people involved from the bottom up and imbue them with the power to make things happen.

Senator Obama's more decentralized strategy -- which ran through all aspects of his campaign -- worked especially well for him in caucus states such as Iowa. Not only did he have a visible gay ground game in the Hawkeye State -- where I saw his LGBT volunteers meet regularly to organize canvassing efforts -- but the candidate also held a Q&A on LGBT issues with more than 300 people at a sandwich shop in Des Moines. He was the only candidate to do so there, something that brought Senator Obama a lot of queer converts in Iowa even as South Carolina's gay contingent was seething over the campaign's inclusion of antigay singer Donnie McClurkin in gospel tour of the state. As they say, all politics is local.

Leading up to Tsunami Tuesday, Senator Clinton continued to follow a more centralized outreach plan, casting her net wide through the LGBT media. Having already bagged a cover story in The Advocate in September (Edwards and Obama were also offered covers), she conducted an interview with the national cable channel Logo and posted a letter to the LGBT community on The approach was in sync with her campaign's overall strategy of garnering the larger delegate-rich states on February 5, such as California, New York, and New Jersey.

For his part, Obama continued with his micro approach before the Super Tuesday vote -- both within the community and outside of it. He visited places like the red state of Idaho, which had only 18 pledged delegates up for grabs, and in his final effort to undercut portions of Clinton's power base in California -- the biggest prize on the map -- he conducted a candidate phone call with Californian LGBT activists, among other things. (Clinton still took California 52% to 43%, but he walloped her in Idaho, taking 80% to her 17% of the vote, one of many caucus contests that have served him well.)

The period after Super Tuesday marked a turning point as Senator Clinton went more micro than ever, especially with gays and lesbians. She granted the much-reported interviews to Ohio, Texas, and Philadelphia gay weeklies and did candidate calls with several LGBT organizations whose endorsement she sought.

Senator Obama also conducted a candidate call with Houston's LGBT Caucus, but he opted to buy ads in the Texas and Ohio weeklies. Some have criticized the tactic, and it certainly didn't raise his accessibility quotient, but cash-laden front-runners are prone to buying ads in lieu of giving interviews. Senator Obama began to act like a politician who was ahead in the polls.

Though Senator Obama has been less visible in the gay press, it is also true that he talks about gays regularly to general audiences. He did so again last Friday in Philadelphia in front of a crowd of roughly 30,000, his biggest rally to date. Certainly, the mainstreaming of LGBT issues is integral to our fight for equality -- the community will gain little without popular support.

Nonetheless, gays and lesbians are still thirsty to hear from the senator in order to be clear about his intentions regarding the community, and rightfully so. While mainstream mentions are critical to us gaining visibility, they do little to clarify the specifics of a candidate's strategy for advancing LGBT rights. This is something Senator Clinton has increasingly embraced over the course of her campaign.

When Senator Obama chose to speak to the LGBT press, he sat down with a national magazine. Asked about this decision by reporter Lisa Keen, LaBolt responded, "It reaches a wide circulation."

As a journalist, I was thrilled to get that interview. But personally, I'm less concerned about whether Senator Obama is talking to local or national gay outlets than the frequency with which he is talking to us. Not only do LGBT-specific interviews give the community a measure of accountability for what he might do as president, but they also give us a way to know his heart on our issues. As the saying goes, all politics is local -- that's as true for specific populations as it is geographically.

Specialty Press Interviews:

African-American Media

* Tom Joyner Morning Show

* Steve Harvey Morning Show

* Russ Parr Morning Show, syndicated

* Ebony

* Black Enterprise

* Vibe

* Essence

* Live in the Den With the Big Tigger

Spanish-Language Media

* Univision National

* La Opinion (Los Angeles)

* Andres Oppenheimer, syndicated columnist

* Piolin por la Manana, radio show (twice, one in-studio)

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Kerry Eleveld