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's Races to Watch

's Races to Watch


November 2 brings a high-stakes election for LGBT Americans, with control of both the House and the Senate up for grabs. Though the Democratic majority in both chambers has produced precious little in equality gains to date, LGBT activists have avoided having to stave off virulently antigay initiatives like the Federal Marriage Amendment ever since Republicans were ousted from House control in 2006.

The GOP has to pick up 39 seats in the House and 10 in the Senate in order to tip the balance of those chambers. Most pundits are predicting at least a 50-plus gain in the House, but Republicans' chances in the Senate look increasingly worse even as they are poised to make significant headway.

Here's a snapshot of some individual races to watch and why they matter, regardless of which party prevails next Tuesday.

Pennsylvania Eighth Congressional District: Rep. Patrick Murphy and Mike Fitzpatrick
LGBT advocates and political observers across the nation are keeping an eye on this race between two-term incumbent representative Patrick Murphy, who rode an anti-GOP wave into office in 2006 to unseat Mike Fitzpatrick, and Fitzpatrick himself, who is trying to return the favor this go-round now that the landscape has soured for Democrats. Not only did Murphy mount an unflagging effort to pass "don't ask, don't tell" repeal this year, but pundits have dubbed the matchup a "bellwether" race that could signal whether Democrats hang on to the House by a narrow margin or suffer stinging defeats nationwide and surrender House control to Republicans.

Most pollsters peg the race as a toss-up that leans Republican. Last month polls had Murphy down by double digits, but a poll last week put him three points ahead of Fitzpatrick. An unlikely group of LGBT progressives teamed up to produce a video for Murphy, while Fitzpatrick, who favors waiting for the Pentagon study before voting on DADT, has been endorsed by Log Cabin Republicans. Just as in the rest of the nation, the predominant issue in the campaign is jobs and the economy. Murphy has called Fitzpatrick "the tax cut fairy" over his support for extending the Bush tax cuts, but the Democrat's ties to President Barack Obama (he was an early supporter) and his party's failure to tangibly improve the economy have been a heavy drag on his campaign.

Iowa: Three Supreme Court Judges
Three of the most homophobic groups in the country have taken aim at unseating three Iowa supreme court judges after they joined in the state's landmark unanimous decision last year legalizing same-sex marriage for the first time in the nation's heartland.

In you case you haven't already guessed, the National Organization for Marriage is leading the way with assists from the American Family Association and the Family Research Council in this pernicious campaign to politicize the justice system and defeat the high court justices -- one appointed by a Democratic governor and two by a Republican. The race would otherwise be a snoozer, as only four state judges have been ousted in Iowa since 1962, none of them at the supreme court level.

NOM has already ponied up over half a million dollars, the AFA committed to pitching in $200,000 but has so far spent a little less than half that sum, and the FRC's local Iowa affiliate launched a campaign encouraging pastors to push their congregants to vote against the judges -- a blatant violation of federal tax law for churches, as noted by the Iowa Independent.

The judges -- Marsha K. Ternus, the chief justice; Michael J. Streit; and David L. Baker -- have chosen not to campaign. Meanwhile NOM embarked on a mad-dash bus tour across the state this week with former U.S. senator and antigay stalwart Rick Santorum in order to strike fear in the heart of Hawkeye State. Iowa voters already rejected NOM's $85,000 worth of scare tactics aimed at defeating state representative Curt Hanson in a special election last year, but it's less clear if they will deliver another blow to the organization next week.

Massachusetts Fourth Congressional District: Barney Frank and Sean Bielat
Rep. Barney Frank -- the longest-standing gay member of Congress, a 15-term incumbent, and a Democrat in a solidly blue district of Massachusetts -- took the unusual step of dipping into his personal savings to lend his campaign $200,000 last week. Just to be clear, he's consistently polled ahead of his challenger, a total unknown named Sean Bielat, by double digits.

But Frank also hasn't broken the 50% mark in any of those polls -- a particularly bad sign for one of the best-known pols in the state -- and the GOP novice and marine veteran raised $400,000 last month. A poll last week put Frank 13 points ahead of his challenger, 46% to 33%, but with 11% undecided, Bielat could turn this into a nail biter if the night turns into a GOP tsunami. But if nothing else, the fact that Frank even had to campaign should send shivers down the backs of Democrats.

Minnesota Gubernatorial Race
Perhaps only a few of us would know the name Tom Emmer had Target and Best Buy not donated six-figure sums to a business PAC supporting his candidacy thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, which struck down limits on corporate spending in elections.

The two corporate giants claim the money was given to spur job growth in the state, not push an antigay agenda. But if Emmer is elected over former Minnesota senator and Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate Mark Dayton, the latter may be an unintended consequence. Emmer, a state legislator, supports a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality in the state, which already has a statute barring same-sex couples from marrying.

The National Organization for Marriage has included Minnesota among a handful of states where it has run ads stirring up social conservatives. The organization singles out Emmer's opponents -- Dayton and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner -- for pro-marriage equality stances. A recent poll of likely voters by Minnesota Public Radio and the Humphrey Institute has Dayton running ahead with 41%, compared to 29% for Emmer and 11% for Horner.

California 45th Congressional District: Steve Pougnet and Mary Bono Mack
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been pushing Palm Springs mayor Steve Pougnet as the great blue hope of California's 45th district, painted red since it was carved out in 1983 and currently held by Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack. If elected, Pougnet would be the fourth openly gay member of Congress -- joining Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin, Colorado's Jared Polis, and Massachusetts's Barney Frank in the House of Representatives, should all three incumbents win their respective races. He would also be the first representative legally married to a same-sex spouse as well as the first gay dad to join the Capitol Hill ranks.

The 45th district is an expansive one, with pockets nowhere near as gay-friendly as Palm Springs, where Pougnet was elected mayor in 2007. Pougnet is straightforward with constituents in his campaigning, however, he told The Advocate earlier this year. "Am I gay? Yes," he said. "Am I a husband? Yes. Do I have children? Yes. Really, we are a family unit no different from any other. People will absolutely know who we are, and when I am standing there at the soccer games with moms talking about jobs and schools and the failings of our education system, they will know that it matters to us as well."

Bono Mack has broken with her party by voting for hate-crimes legislation, but this year she voted against repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." Still, she has picked up the endorsement of conservative gay groups GOProud and the national Log Cabin Republicans. "We continue to count Bono Mack as an ally when fighting for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a litany of other issues that much be addressed by Congress," said Log Cabin deputy executive director Christian Berle (Bono Mack has stated her support for workplace protections against antigay discrimination but is not currently a cosponsor of the gender identity-inclusive version of ENDA, now stalled in Congress).

Like a few more high-profile battles in California, the 45th district has been steeped in negative ads from both sides. As of Tuesday, the Cook Political Report gives the edge to Bono Mack, though by no means does she have a lock on returning to Washington.

California Gubernatorial and Attorney General Races

One of the state's most bruising gubernatorial campaigns in history has all the hallmarks of any good soap opera. But clearly the stakes in the race -- namely soaring unemployment and a crushing state budget deficit that nearly guarantees stalemate in Sacramento each year -- transcend political melodrama. Perhaps nowhere are the candidates more diametrically opposed in their positions than on Proposition 8. Democrat Jerry Brown, the state's attorney general, has emphatically declined to defend the 2008 ballot measure stripping same-sex couples of the right to marry, as has outgoing California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Republican Meg Whitman, who has spent more than $140 million of her own money in the race, says she would defend Prop. 8 as governor. So has Los Angeles County district attorney and Republican state attorney general candidate Steve Cooley. That sent chills down the organizational spine of Equality California, the state's largest LGBT rights group, which at a recent press conference tapped University of California, Irvine, School of Law dean Erwin Chemerinsky to break down the potential consequences of such a move by an AG.

Chemerinsky, a constitutional scholar, argued that while a deadline has passed for the state to defend Prop. 8 in the case Perry v. Schwarzenegger, now before the ninth circuit court of appeals, it's possible that the court would consider allowing a new attorney general to intervene. Like Jerry Brown, Cooley's opponent, Kamala Harris, opposes defending Prop. 8 before the ninth circuit, which will hear arguments in the case in December.

New York State Senate: Brian Foleyand Lee Zeldin
Gay rights groups in New York are lining up resources and money to defend first-term incumbent state senator Brian Foley, who represents the area of Long Island that includes the gay summer resort Fire Island. However, it's not his district but his vote for marriage equality last year that makes it imperative to keep him in office.

Polls show Foley, the first Democrat elected to represent his area in the state senate in over a century, in a dead heat with Republican challenger Lee Zeldin, who opposes marriage equality and made a strong showing in a congressional race two years ago. Helping to keep Foley in his seat demonstrates that gay voters watch the backs of their friends.

The state senate could vote again on the marriage equality bill as soon as early 2011. Last time, the measure failed by a 38-24 margin. In order to pass the bill on the second try, in November, advocates need to keep friends in their seats, elect a few more pro-equality senators, and flip some former opponents to yes votes. Keeping Foley in the senate is an integral part of that strategy.

Florida U.S. Senate Race: Charlie Crist, Marco Rubio, and Kendrick Meek
In one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate contests in the country, Marco Rubio, Rep. Kendrick Meek, and Gov. Charlie Crist are vying to replace George LeMieux, appointed to the seat by Crist when Mel Martinez resigned last year. Meek, the tried-and-true Democratic ally, trails independent Crist and front-runner Rubio, the Republican former speaker of the state house of representatives. A staunch social conservative and the preferred candidate of Tea Party voters, Rubio is expected to replicate Martinez's antigay positions.

No matter what happens on Election Day, the race has prompted a fascinating evolution for Crist, who softened his position on social issues in order to court independent voters. During the campaign he issued a position paper with the help of Equality Florida in which he stated his support for gay rights, stopping short of full marriage equality, and as governor he announced that he would not enforce Florida's ban on adoption by gay people, which a state appellate court struck down last month and the attorney general has declined to appeal.

Nevada U.S. Senate Race: Harry Reid and Sharron Angle
Spending in the high-profile and bitterly fought contest between U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Tea Party-backed Republican challenger Sharron Angle in Nevada could top more than $50 million, but that figure pales in comparison to the psychic blow of an Angle triumph.

Reid, a soft-spoken Mormon, received a score of 100 on Human Rights Campaign scorecards for the 110th and 111th Congress. Reid, an early target of the Tea Party, seemed to bounce back from the abyss, and his defeat would embolden gay rights opponents and represent a significant symbolic loss for Democrats.

A victory by Angle, who holds a four-point lead in a new Rasmussen poll, would repudiate a recent spirit of progress in Nevada, where last year state legislators overrode a veto by Gov. Jim Gibbons and created same-sex domestic partnerships. A former state assemblywoman, in the 1990s Angle was a member of the Independent American Party, which placed a 16-page advertising insert in Nevada newspapers calling for an amendment to the state constitution that would permit discrimination against LGBT people. Angle supports a federal constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, and she has been endorsed by Sarah Palin.

Alaska U.S. Senate Race: Lisa Murkowski, Joe Miller, and Scott McAdams
It's not every day that LGBT Americans can be reassured by the resurgent campaign of a Republican write-in for Senate, but that just happens to be true with incumbent senator Lisa Murkowski, who was defeated in the August GOP primary by Sarah Palin's Tea Party pick, Joe Miller. One of Miller's chief advisers is Terry Moffitt, who, according to Mother Jones magazine, refers to himself as the "Christian Indiana Jones" and is chairman of the Family Policy Network, which runs the website If you're LGBT and looking for inspiration, it's not recommended reading -- unless you enjoy being demonized and denigrated. Here's a taste: "While the homosexuals celebrate their perversions, they are confronted with the truth that there is hope for deliverance in Jesus Christ."

So keep an eye on Murkowski, as she has a better chance of edging out Miller than does Democratic nominee Scott McAdams. No one has run a successful write-in campaign for the U.S. Senate since Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in 1954, but the last thing the nation needs is another Republican who's in lockstep with the Palmetto State's present-day version of Thurmond, Sen. Jim DeMint.

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