Washington State Democrats started running on-line ads today that highlight Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna's opposition to gay marriage. The ads link to a mock Rob Mckenna for Governor website.
McKenna's campaign manager, Randy Pepple, downplays the impact a gay marriage ballot measure might have on the outcome of this year's gubernatorial contest. McKenna supports domestic partnerships, but doesn't support same-sex marriage "as a matter of faith." Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Jay Inslee backs gay marriage.
If the legislature approves same-sex marriage - as it appears poised to do - conservative opponents vow to launch a repeal effort. Gay marriage on the ballot would certainly drive socially conservative voters to the polls. But it would also presumably galvanize a cohort of younger, more liberal voters. [As would regulating the sale of marijuana, which is almost certainly headed for the ballot in the form of I-502.]
But Pepple makes the case that ballot measures will not be a significant factor in deciding who wins the 2012 governor's race. He notes that turnout in Washington in 2008, the last presidential election year, was nearly 85% (over 90% for voters over age 55). [In 2004, it was 82%.] Pepple says, as a practical matter, you can't get much higher than that - the remaining 15%, he notes, have moved, died or otherwise made themselves ineligble or unable to vote.
Bottom line, he argues, in Washington there's not a significant universe of voters who plan to sit out 2012 election. Therefore, a hot social issue on the ballot isn't likely to sway the outcome in the race for governor.
Of course, in 2004, "defense of marriage" acts appeared on 11 state ballots triggering a debate over how much that helped the re-election of President Bush. Pepple's response is that in state's with lower turnout, like Ohio, it might impact outcomes higher up the ballot.
So why are gay marriage backers pushing this issue this year? Pepple won't engage in that speculation.
Governor Chris Gregoire and other Democratic leaders say the "time is right." But what does that really mean? Well, for one, it means they appear to have the votes in the legislature - although that wasn't clear when Gregoire announced her support for the measure.
It could also mean backers think 2012 may be their last chance - at least for the forseeable future.
If 2012 favors Republicans in Washington, McKenna could win the governor's race and the GOP could take control of the state senate. Under that scenario, gay marriage wouldn't stand much of a chance.
*Note: I plan to offer the perspective of Jay Inslee's campaign manager on this or another topic in a future blog post.