Democratic Presidential candidates have sights on gay dollars

By Lisa Keen

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination has an unusual feature this time around: A battle of the gay lists. And early campaign finance reports this week suggest another battle is brewing for gay dollars.

In the battle for dollars inside heavily gay neighborhoods, Hillary Clinton appears to be faring best - especially in Ann Arbor, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and South Beach. But Barack Obama commands a strong second, leading in heavily gay neighborhoods in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

In ten zip code areas with well-known heavily gay neighborhoods in seven cities, Clinton took in 51 percent of contributions made to the top three Democrats, as reported in the April quarterly report made available by the Federal Elections Commission this week. Obama raked in 39 percent, and John Edwards 10 percent. In Ann Arbor's zip code of 48104, Clinton took 68 percent of the money given to the top three Democrats, followed by Obama with 20 percent, and Edwards with 12.

This initial examination looked at the records of only the top three polling candidates in each party. Among Republicans, Rudy Giuliani led with 56 percent, followed by Mitt Romney with 26 percent and John McCain with 18 percent.

Of course, contribution reports this early in the campaign provide only a very sketchy picture of gay support, for many reasons. First, the reports do not specify what contributions came from gay donors, only how many dollars were contributed within a specific zip code. Second, while the zip code areas chosen encompass heavily gay sections of the cities, they also contain areas which are not known to include large numbers of gays. And though political pundits are predicting the primary winner will be chosen by the conclusion of the Feb. 5 primary - when more than a dozen states will be going to the polls - many more contributions will be reported as the primary voting draws nearer.

But the shifting forward of so many primaries, coupled with a Democratic presidential primary race that is polling as closely as this one, is increasing the importance of every vote and every constituency. The latest Gallup Poll, taken April 17 to 18, showed Clinton with 41 percent of Democratic leaning voters, compared to Obama's 20 and Edwards' 12 percent.

"The gay vote is hugely important in the primary," said lesbian Democratic activist Hilary Rosen.

"In past election years, we didn't have front-loaded primaries," said well-known Democratic fundraiser David Mixner. "It'll all be over in about 10 months, and I'll be very surprised if we do not know who the nominee is then."

That's, no doubt, part of the motivation behind a decision by the Edwards campaign last week to go after the gay vote more aggressively. The campaign issued a press release April 10 listing "prominent LGBT leaders" who are endorsing Edwards for president. Mixner was among them.

"It demonstrates that John Edwards wants to put into action his words - he wants a partnership with the community, he wants gays to be part of his campaign," said Mixner. "This is a very visible way of showing how aggressively the campaign will pursue the community."

Six days after the Edwards camp released its list, the Clinton campaign had one. Jin Chon, a spokesperson for the campaign, said the campaign had not put out a formal list, but rather was "providing a sample of LGBT leaders across the country who support the Senator." He said the campaign would be doing "a formal rollout in the future."

Contacted by a reporter this week, a spokesperson for Obama, Jen Psaki, said that campaign "is operating a little differently" than the other campaigns and has "not been releasing the names of supporters." However, she forwarded a list of 18 prominent LGBT supporters from the senator's home state of Illinois.

Edwards' list included 25 people, including Mixner, and Eric Stern, a former LGBT Outreach Director for the Democratic National Committee and former executive director of the national gay Democratic group Stonewall Federation.

The Clinton campaign's list totaled 26 names, including prominent lesbian Democratic activist Hilary Rosen and well-known gay Democratic fundraisers Jeff Soref and Fred Hochberg.

Most names on the Clinton list are quite familiar to many gays - elected officials, such as New York State Senator Tom Duane, tennis legend Billie Jean King, The L Word creator Ilene Chaiken, and former deputy Kerry campaign director Steve Elmendorf.

Fewer of the names on the Edwards list are familiar, but they have connections that are widely known. Skip Paul co-founded Sega GameWorks with movie mogul Steven Spielberg, Darren Star helped create such popular television series as Sex and the City, Beverly Hills 90210, and Melrose Place; and Dennis Erdman was a director on television's Mad About You.

"I think it was smart of Edwards to release names, but I think that is more of an effort to establish credibility as the third place candidate than a reflection on Clinton or Obama," said Rosen. "All of these candidates are good people and will have great gay supporters. I just think Hillary has more gravitas, combined with the compassion and knowledge about the issues to be a great President."

Pam Spaulding, an online gay political blogger, says the Edwards campaign strategy of releasing a list of gay supporters this early says "the Edwards campaign is serious about courting the gay vote." And, she said, it signals that "there's clear dissent within establishment circles about where gay support, and gay dollars will go."

That dissent, she explained, is revealed in the presence of Human Rights Campaign leaders on the list.

Although Clinton's recent appearance before an HRC board event clearly illustrated she has strong support within the organization, Edwards' list included more HRC board members, including Scott Wiener of San Francisco.

Wiener, past chair of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, said his support for Edwards is based primarily on the anti-poverty activist's commitment to standing up for "economic fairness."

"I know that there are leaders in the LGBT community supporting other candidates," said Wiener. "I think it's great to have people in each of the campaigns to ensure that LGBT people are always at the table."

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