Santorum’s success in Iowa could fuel more discussion of LGBT issues in GOP primary

Mitt Romney, left, and Rick Santorum finished in a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses, with Romney winning by eight votes.

Perry returns to Texas after 5th-place showing

LISA KEEN | Keen News Service

The Republican presidential field’s most anti-gay candidate scored big Tuesday night when he landed in a virtual tie for first place in the Iowa caucuses with the candidate who has been seen by the media as the party’s most viable candidate against President Barack Obama.

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who took numerous opportunities in his campaign to espouse his opposition to equal rights for LGBT people, secured just eight votes fewer than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, out of about 60,000 cast for the two men. Each won 25 percent of the 122,000 votes cast for seven candidates, in what may be the closest Republican caucus race in history. The final result was not announced by the state Republican Party until after 1 a.m. Iowa time.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas came in third, with 21 percent of the caucus votes. U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia followed in fourth place, garnering 13 percent. Texas Gov. Rick Perry took 10 percent of the vote in fifth place, followed by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota in sixth place with 5 percent of the vote.

Bachmann canceled a trip to South Carolina — which holds its primary Jan. 21 — and was expected to announce Wednesday that she is ending her campaign. Perry, meanwhile, also canceled a planned trip to South Carolina saying, “I’ve decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight’s caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race.”

Early Wednesday Perry indicated on Twitter that he will  continue his campaign. “And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State…Here we come South Carolina!!!” read a tweet from Perry’s verified Twitter account, which was accompanied by a photo of Perry in jogging gear. A Perry campaign source reportedly told CNN that, “We’re back on.”

Openly gay candidate Fred Karger did not compete in the Iowa caucuses. The field’s only candidate supportive of legal recognition of same-sex relationships (albeit through civil unions only), former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, claimed less than 1 percent of the vote.

Although an Iowa victory is an important symbolic victory, especially in the eyes of the media, it does not secure any of the state’s eventual 25 delegates to the Republican national convention.

Also, polls nationally and in other key states suggest Santorum still has an uphill battle for the nomination. The latest national poll, by Gallup, showed Santorum in fifth place with only 6 percent of support from 1,000 Republican voters surveyed. Romney led the field with 24 percent. The poll was conducted from Dec. 26 to Jan. 2.

A CNN poll of New Hampshire voters on Tuesday night after Santorum’s success showed an increase in support for Santorum — to 10 percent, twice what it was in late December. But Romney held fast to his 47 percent of the New Hampshire support, Paul held onto 17 percent, and Huntsman held onto 13 percent.

Santorum’s success in Iowa will probably bring increased attention and support for his passionately proclaimed anti-gay views. Those views and his toughly stated opposition to abortion appeared to fuel his strong showing in the caucuses. A CNN entrance poll indicated that 84 percent of those participating described themselves as either “very conservative” (47 percent) or “somewhat conservative” (37 percent). The majority of those participants (54 percent) voted for Santorum.

Fifty-seven percent of participants also described themselves as “white evangelical/born-again Christians.” And 32 percent of those supported Santorum.

The most important issue for Santorum supporters in Iowa, was abortion, according to CNN. (CNN apparently did not ask about same-sex marriage on the entrance poll.) For Romney supporters, it was the economy.

“[N]o other candidate has made opposing basic rights for LGBT Americans such a guiding principle of his or her public life,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

One CNN commentator, Gloria Borger, suggested Santorum’s ascension might draw Romney into more discussions about social issues, such as same-sex marriage. However, Santorum himself took his rhetoric down a notch during his remarks Tuesday night.

Santorum, on stage with a large crowd of supporters, thanked his wife Karen, God and Iowa. He said “rights come to us from God,” he talked about the need for “a plan that includes everyone,” and he talked about the “dignity of every human life.” He said that “when the family breaks down, the economy struggles.” But, despite repeatedly emphasizing his opposition to same-sex marriage throughout his campaign, Santorum did not mention his definition of marriage as being “one man and one woman.”

Romney, on stage with his wife and four of his sons, congratulated Santorum for his success and noted, at 12:40 a.m. Wednesday, that he did not yet know what the final result would be. (Two percent of the vote was yet to be counted, and Romney was leading by only 41 votes. Before he finished his speech, Santorum was leading by five votes.) Romney said nothing about same-sex marriage either, and said “freedom is a gift from God.”

Santorum, who polled near the bottom of the field with only single-digit support for months on end, jumped ahead in the polls in the last few days before the caucus. Bob Vander Platts, one of the leaders against same-sex marriage in Iowa, reportedly took some credit for Santorum’s surge, which started about a week after Vander Platts’ group, The Family Leader, endorsed Santorum.

Both national and local media gave much credit to Santorum’s decision to campaign in every one of Iowa’s 99 counties for his victory. And the Des Moines Register pre-caucus poll indicated that Santorum’s supporters showed a greater likelihood of showing up at the caucuses (76 percent) than those of other candidates.

More than 40 percent of Iowa Republicans were undecided going into the caucuses.

In remarks after most media declared him the third place candidate in Iowa, Paul emphasized the importance of staying faithful to the Constitution and limiting government interference in private lives. Perry, who went on stage with just his wife and three kids, mostly read from a letter from a supporter.

An unusually low-key Bachmann initially vowed to continue her campaign, but she, too, read her remarks to the crowd, including a reiteration of her promise of “protecting marriage between one man and one woman.”

The openly gay Karger did not compete in the Iowa caucuses, saying he knew the turnout would be “mostly social conservatives” and that his strongholds of support there, the colleges, were not in session.

Karger was in New Hampshire Tuesday night, where he has been campaigning for months. He said that, regardless of how he does in New Hampshire’s primary, Jan. 10, “I’ll absolutely stay in all primaries and caucuses.”

CNN commentator Al Sharpton said Santorum’s success in the race is good for Democrats.

“As long as a Santorum is in the race, Romney’s going to have to keep playing to the right,” said Sharpton, “and the longer he has to debate and stay to the right, he loses the middle.”

Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper issued a state early Wednesday morning saying that Romney was “one of the best” of the Republican candidates in Iowa
 on issues affecting LGBT Americans.

“By contrast,” said Cooper, “Sen. Santorum rose by appealing
 to a uniquely socially conservative electorate. The divisive social issue politics which
 helped Santorum’s campaign in Iowa will only hurt him in New Hampshire and beyond
 as voters learn more about his record. Winning the White House will require the politics 
of addition, not division.

“If using gay and lesbian Americans as a wedge can’t score enough political points to win more than 25 percent in Iowa,” said Cooper, “it certainly won’t help the Republican nominee in November.”

Jimmy LaSalvia, head of GOProud, a national gay conservative group, issued a statement that ignored Santorum’s success in Iowa. Instead, LaSalvia praised Romney and Paul on taking “two of the three top spots in Iowa” and said, “It is clear that the message of economic renewal and limited government is resonating with Republican voters.”

“While there are certainly big differences between Governor Romney and Congressman Paul, especially when it comes to foreign policy,” said LaSalvia, “both chose to emphasize issues like the economy and the size of government over demonizing gay people. We are pleased to see that so many Republicans in Iowa are focused on the issues that unite us as conservatives, instead of the side show issues.”

There are two debates this weekend. The first is in New Hampshire, Saturday at 9 p.m. on ABC. The latter is on NBC’s Meet the Press program on Sunday at 9 a.m.

Senior political writer John Wright contributed to this report.

© 2012 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

—  John Wright

Rick Perry fails to win support of anti-gay leaders; TV ad backfiring among some Iowa Republicans

Gov. Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign suffered yet another setback Tuesday when Bob Vander Plaats, a leading social conservative in Iowa who serves as president of the anti-gay Family Leader organization, endorsed Rick Santorum in the state’s Jan. 3 Republican Caucus.

Perry’s campaign had actively courted the Family Leader’s endorsement, and he signed the group’s controversial “marriage pledge” last month. Politico notes that Perry is in a three-way battle for Iowa’s coveted evangelical vote against Santorum and Michele Bachmann. Vander Plaats’ endorsement could help determine who moves on to New Hampshire and who does not.

Adding salt to Perry’s wounds, Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, endorsed Newt Gingrich on Tuesday. If you’ll remember, the AFA, which is considered an anti-gay hate group, teamed with Perry for The Response, the August prayer rally in Houston that served as a kickoff for his presidential campaign — and at which Wildmon embraced Perry on stage. Right Wing Watch reports on Wildmon’s endorsement of Gingrich:

Wildmon today appeared on Focal Point with Bryan Fischer where he explained that while he was initially “ecstatic” about Rick Perry’s candidacy, he decided that because of the Texas governor’s disastrous debate appearances his candidacy “cannot recover.” Wildmon said that electability matters because “we are facing the most critical election this nation has ever seen, the stake in this election is Western civilization.”

Despite Tuesday’s setbacks, The Dallas Morning News’ Wayne Slater reports that Perry, who’s still polling in the lower tier of candidates, plans to remain in the race beyond Iowa regardless of where he finishes. But Slater also notes the Perry’s infamous anti-gay TV ad, “Strong,” appears to be backfiring among some Republican voters:

At a historic hotel in Maquoketa, 61-year-old Len Ditch sat in the front row, wearing a Perry for President sticker. He said he liked Perry’s commercials in Iowa — especially one recommending that Congress be made part-time. He liked another one advocating prayer in schools but questioned why Perry had included a reference to gays serving openly in the military.

“I don’t believe in the gay world. But I believe live and let live,” he said.

Meanwhile, KWQC Channel 6 in Davenport, Iowa, has posted a transcript from an interview with Perry in which the station asked Perry about “Strong” and whether he thinks being gay is a choice. Read the excerpt below:

—  John Wright

UPDATED: Log Cabin responds to Congressman Pete Sessions’ decision not to attend dinner

Pete Sessions: Silver fox or just sly like one?

Roll Call is reporting that Dallas Republican Congressman Pete Sessions has backed out of a scheduled appearance Wednesday night at a fundraiser for Log Cabin Republicans, saying he needs to attend a House GOP caucus meeting instead.

Well isn’t that a convenient excuse? We’re sure Sessions’ no-show has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he and Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, also slated to appear at the Log Cabin dinner, are being villified on right-wing websites for accepting the invitation. As we reported, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins sent Cornyn a letter last week demanding that he skip the dinner. And FRC said on its blog Tuesday that Cornyn shouldn’t have accepted the invitation in part because Log Cabin derives its name from the idea that President Abraham Lincoln was gay, a theory FRC seems hell-bent on dismissing. Meanwhile, American Family Association President Tom Wildmon told CSN News that by attending the fundraiser Cornyn is actively promoting “men having sex with men.”

We called Sessions’ D.C. office to get further explanation about his decision to back out — such as whether the Republican caucus meeting was scheduled before or after the Log Cabin dinner, whether they are in fact at the same time, and if they are, whether he can’t afford to miss a few minutes of the caucus meeting to make a cameo at the LCR dinner. But not surprisingly, Sessions spokeswoman Emily Davis mysteriously became unavailable after we identified ourselves as being from the gay paper, and she hasn’t gotten back to us.

We’re sure some gay Republicans will defend Sessions’ decision, pointing to his appearance at the annual dinner of the Dallas chapter of Log Cabin two years ago. But we’d like to point out that the 2008 dinner came immediately AFTER the November elections, not six weeks before them. Let’s face it, folks, Republicans like Sessions are scared shitless of the Tea Party right now. And while tea-baggers like to say they’re concerned primarily with fiscal issues, many of us recognize them as the same right-wing nutjobs who were peddling social issues five years ago.

In case you’re wondering, Sessions faces Democrat Grier Raggio in November.

UPDATE: Melissa Kennedy, a spokeswoman for National Log Cabin Republicans, contacted Instant Tea to say that our previous headline, which suggested the Sessions had gotten cold feet about the dinner due to pressure from social conservatives, was inaccurate. Kennedy said we should have contacted Log Cabin before posting it. She said Republican House leaders have called a mandatory meeting for tonight and so Sessions’ reason for not attending the dinner is legitimate. She said if Sessions was worried about how the Log Cabin appearance would look, he wouldn’t have accepted their invitation in the first place.

Sessions is sending a senior staff member to pick up his award from Log Cabin, and he’s videotaped a message that will be played during the dinner, Kennedy said.

“We don’t feel like someone left us at the altar,” she said.

Asked whether Log Cabin has any qualms about hosting Cornyn after he supported Tuesday’s filibuster of the bill containing language to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell,” Kennedy said absolutely not. Kennedy said Log Cabin supported Senate Republicans’ decision to filibuster the bill based on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s refusal to allow them to propose amendments.

“We’re not saying they’ve been our best buds and we’re going to have sleepovers, but we’re working on it and we appreciate the fact that they said yes,” Kennedy said of Cornyn and Sessions and their decision to accept the group’s invitation to the dinner.

—  John Wright