Scroll To Top

 In the
Belly of No on 8

 In the
Belly of No on 8


When former Log Cabin Republicans president Patrick Guerriero came to San Francisco to visit the No on 8 headquarters, he didn't know he'd wind up staying to run the biggest LGBT rights political campaign in history. But with a measly million in the bank and the Mormon church raising money hand over fist, No on 8 needed help, and Guerriero stepped in to close the gap -- and, with any luck, make history.

The No on 8 campaign headquarters is located on San Francisco's Market Street in a space that was once the home of Tower Records. Dance mix CDs and DVD displays have been replaced with table after table of volunteers, who on the last Wednesday before the November 4 election are working their cell phones to encourage Californians to vote no on the ballot measure. If passed, Proposition 8 would ban same-sex marriages in California just months after the state supreme court voted narrowly to strike down laws preventing gay and lesbian couples from getting hitched.

Considering the polls showing 8's potential passage, the onslaught of out-of-state money raised by the Yes on 8 campaign, and the damage done by Yes on 8 ads featuring scared parents and vulnerable children, I expect to find a much more tense, scared office. But the receptionist seems to represent the energy of place: focused, businesslike, and surprisingly calm.

I'm there to see Patrick Guerriero, who less than a month ago became No on 8's campaign director. The former president of the Log Cabin Republicans, Guerriero now runs the Colorado-based Gill Action Fund, an issue advocacy organization founded by gay software mogul Tim Gill that promotes LGBT political rights. After being ushered into a smaller set of offices that are nonetheless full with No on 8's media team and a "war room"-like conference call among No on 8 staffers, Guerriero comes out of an even smaller room, working his BlackBerry. It's clear that if you told Guerriero six weeks ago he would be in California working full-time on the fight of his life, he would have said you're crazy.

"I just came to visit in late September to check on the status of the campaign and to offer support from Gill Action," he said. "Right about the time I came here there was a growing awareness the Mormon church had basically made an unprecedented financial commitment to raising a record amount of money in a social issue campaign."

During the summer, No on 8 organizers were estimating $20 million would be needed to defeat the amendment, and with early polls showing a lack of support for Proposition 8 and a fairly muted opposition that hadn't yet launched a media campaign, the No campaign appeared on track.

But the October fund-raising report brought No on 8 supporters cataclysmic news. Proposition supporters, with major help from very organized out-of-state Mormon donors, had raised $25 million and boasted $12 million in the bank, while No on 8 had raised only $15 million with a measly $1 million in the bank.

"I should show you the sheet," Guerriero said of the report. "I keep it as a reminder in my office."

With a series of ads that equated a No on 8 vote with mandatory gay marriage instruction in public schools and a not-so-veiled threat that newly married gays and lesbians were after the children of God-fearing families, the Yes on 8 forces launched what Guerriero called a "shock and awe television and radio bombardment into the homes of every Californian."

On October 7, Equality California's executive director Geoff Kors and senior strategist Steve Smith held a conference call announcing any lead in the polls was gone and the LGBT community needed to stop being complacent and get organized quick. Kors and others in the No on 8 campaign asked Guerriero to stay and help the effort.

But what does a Republican who has never lived in California, let alone run a statewide ballot initiative in the seventh-largest economy of the world, bring to the table?

"I'm smart enough to know what I know, and smart enough to know what I don't know," Guerriero answered. "My job was to help the campaign run a very disciplined shop to try and come back financially, which thankfully because of the unbelievable surge of donations, has happened."

Guerriero jokingly calls himself a "German schoolteacher" when it comes to keeping campaigns in order. He didn't want to name names, but one of his chief duties has been to bring in top-tier political talent to everything from No on 8's fund-raising operation to its media campaign. A number of Hillary Clinton campaign veterans, along with operatives who know the California proposition landscape and staffers from Massachusetts who helped make marriage a reality in the Bay State, have all come on board over the past few weeks.

"You go around the offices here and start asking people where you were a month ago, there are a lot of stories of people who basically gave up their life and to donate their time," he explained. "They are some of the best and brightest political minds in the country."

As of Wednesday morning, the financials were neck and neck, with the Yes camp racking up a total of $32.4 million. But in a crucial switch, the No on 8 forces had edged their opponents out with $32.6 million. During our interview, Guerriero took a call that sealed the deal on an additional $500,000 from an individual donor. Support from other progressive organizations plus the teachers and nurses unions have also been critical, but Guerriero was quick to point out the huge amount of small donations that have come through on No on 8's revamped website. Guerriero talked about the "hotel workers, janitors, college students" who have helped close the cash gap.

There has been plenty of grousing about the campaign's early decisions, which included what some critics called an ad campaign that seemed to ask for permission to marry, as opposed to saying no to discrimination. Guerriero didn't want to talk about past mistakes, and instead noted what the LGBT community has been able to do in such a short amount of time since the state supreme court decision is nothing short of amazing.

"A lot of states will never see a $40 million campaign," he said. "This is the single most expensive and most intense social issue fight in the history of the country. And that's not hyperbole, that's fact."

The media revamp has included a new Spanish-language push, with ads running on Spanish-language media outlets featuring Ugly Betty stars America Ferrerra, Tony Pena, and Ana Ortiz. Getting the ads done was a challenge, considering the three actors were in New York and the campaign had less than a few days to write, produce, and distribute the ads.

"That spot seems to be touching people," said one of Guerriero's colleagues, a senior executive at a major media company who took a leave of absence to work full-time on the campaign. "Young Latinos were looking for a way to talk about this with their parents. They didn't feel comfortable having that conversation in Spanish. This is definitely filling a need."

Guerriero is bullish on what looks to be record Democratic turnout in the bluest of blue states. "We need the vast majority of Democrats to do the right thing," he said. "If we get a third of Republicans that would be terrific. We need a real surge in young people on college campuses to show up. We have messages that speak to the entire state, but the most important thing in a federal election with great turnout is that the Democratic and independent voters who are inclined to be supportive show up in great numbers and remember to vote down ballot."

The campaign has looked at a number of different variables, including the possibility of lower-than-usual social conservative turnout thanks to presidential hopeful John McCain's campaign, an increase in youth voting, and record turnout from African-American voters, who in the past have not been as supportive of LGBT issues as other Democratic Party voting blocs.

"We're more interested in trends than exact numbers," Guerriero said. "What's more important is communicating with voters and leaving no stone unturned."

Despite all the newfound momentum, Guerriero's task is daunting. While I am in the Market Street office, the campaign's IT team -- a collection of A-listers from many of Silicon Valley's biggest firms -- is confounded by a shutdown of the No on 8 website. A few hours later they will discover they were attacked by mystery hackers, but not before slowing down online fund-raising.

With just a few days to go, Guerriero explained the shift has gone from phone-banking to getting volunteers out into the field, with the goal of having 20,000 No on 8 backers on the streets on Election Day. If the Yes on 8 campaign lives up to its claims, hundreds of thousands of its supporters, organized by conservative churches including the Mormons, could be canvassing and campaigning on November 4 as well.

But the big question still remains -- is it too little and too late to fight against an organized opposition that raised more than double the early estimates? Guerriero notes propositions are won or lost in the last four weeks of the campaign, as Californians finally sit down and read through their ballot initiatives. "The public is plugging in," he said.

Guerriero has just finished up his half-million-dollar phone call, and a staffer is pushing him to stick to his schedule, which includes a working dinner off-site. He's eyeing his BlackBerry as it continually buzzes, but he seems at peace with the campaign.

"When the polls close at 8 on Tuesday, you can never be too confident about the results, but you can be very proud of the fact that this campaign and the leadership here did everything it could to win," Guerriero said. "And that's all you can do."

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

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Christopher Lisotta