Q-Notes examines the candidates —
Part one of a multi-part series
by David Stout . Q-Notes staff
Over the next several issues we’ll be handicapping the Democratic presidential candidates in preparation for primary season. The first Democratic primary occurs in Iowa on Jan. 3. South Carolina holds the earliest in the South on Jan. 26. The North Carolina Democratic primary takes place May 6.
We have made an editorial decision to limit our coverage to the Democrats because, vis-à-vis LGBT issues, the leading Republican candidates range from woefully lacking to open hostility, or they’re Rudy Giuliani, an Iraq war hawk. Either way, the GOP slate is a disappointment and not worthy of consideration in our opinion.
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s run for the White House as the Democratic nominee is a foregone conclusion. At least, that’s what the mainstream media would have you believe.
Their position is understandable. The two-term New York senator is the frontrunner, is seated on the largest war chest ever amassed at this point in a presidential campaign, is surrounded by a crack team of advisors and is married to the most popular American president since Reagan in his heyday.
Impressive stuff. Enough to feel Clinton is in the driver’s seat, without a doubt. But, despite the “inevitability” meme, no guarantee of victory.
It was also conventional wisdom that Howard Dean would run away with the bellwether Iowa primary in 2004, setting in motion a tumbling of dominoes that would carry him to the nomination. However, a surprising third-place finish led to the infamous “Dean Scream” speech. Within weeks Howard was the lamest of ducks.
No one is predicting that Clinton will experience a similar meltdown, of course. But let’s not call the race before a single vote has even been cast.
A record of support
Hillary Clinton has a unique history with the gay community that runs the length of her time in national politics. She and Bill openly courted LGBT voters in their initial bid for the White House. As First Lady, her press secretary, Neel Lattimore, was an out gay man.
Additional high-profile staff and advisory positions in the Clinton administration were filled by other gays and lesbians, including Fred Hochberg, tapped to head the Small Business Administration.
Right-wingers instigated a lesbian rumor campaign against Clinton almost as soon as she settled into the White House. She refused to take their bait to deny or outright reject “the gay lifestyle.” And near the end of her time as First Lady — while campaigning for senator — she made history walking in the 2000 NYC Pride parade.
On the flipside, this unprecedented support made the administration’s two major letdowns seem even worse.
The LGBT community felt double-crossed when the president “compromised” with the Republican-controlled Congress and signed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act into law. Hillary Clinton had a front row seat for the scalding outrage that followed. And during her time in the Senate, she’s seen how much these political copouts have cost the U.S. and LGBT Americans.
Today, as a Democratic presidential candidate, Clinton opposes same-sex marriage in favor of civil unions, backs hate crimes legislation, employment non-discrimination, including transgender protections, and calls for repeal of the odious military policy her husband capitulated on.
She performed well at the Aug. 9 HRC-LOGO presidential forum on LGBT issues. The very enthusiastic response she received from the audience cemented opinion that she has distanced herself from her rivals in the race for the queer vote.
Adding to the zeitgeist, her face is splayed across the Oct. 9 cover of The Advocate. In an exclusive interview with the biweekly LGBT newsmagazine, Clinton defends her close-but-no-cigar stance on marriage equality to journalist Sean Kennedy.
“I come from a very middle-class background. I consider myself to be pretty much a typical American, and I think a lot of people my age and older are really having to think hard. Younger people are much further along. You just have to keep pushing that door open.”
Hillary Clinton is the Democratic frontrunner by a sizable margin.
When Kennedy suggests to Clinton that she is being politically expedient on the issue, that she probably supports same-sex marriage in private, she bristles.
“This is an issue … that I’ve had very few years of my life to think about when you really look at it, when you compare it to a whole life span. I am where I am right now, and it is a position that I come to authentically. But it is also one that has enormous room and support both in my heart and in my work to try to move the agenda of equality and civil unions forward.”
Causes for concern
Whether Clinton secretly supports same-sex marriage or not, it’s clear that most LGBT voters believe her promise to move the overall agenda forward. Where she still has work to do is selling them on her broader policies, proving her character and settling whether she is a big-tent candidate.
Anti-war activists charge that Clinton is the most hawkish among the Democratic candidates. They point to her September vote in favor of the Lieberman-Kyl amendment, declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, as proof that she didn’t learn her lesson after voting to authorize the Iraq war.
Twenty Democratic senators, including Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd (both 2008 presidential candidates), Russ Feingold, Mike Gravel, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Patrick Leahy and Jim Webb, voted against Lieberman-Kyl, labeling it the Bush administration’s first step toward its next military target, Iran. (Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama missed the vote.)
Clinton damaged her reputation among the pro-peace crowd with her stand. Sen. Gravel was especially blunt with her in his reading of the situation. “I’m sure your vote plays well with the hawks and military contractors who support your campaign.”
Gravel’s pointed criticism isn’t political gamesmanship. Clinton has an image problem among some progressive Democrats. Her remarkable fundraising, which is even siphoning money from traditionally GOP-supportive institutions, is connecting her to powerful lobbyists and corporate giants. There is concern that special interests are buying undue access to her campaign.
One recent example that drew fire was an October “Rural Americans for Hillary” lunch — held in Washington, D.C., in the offices of lobbying firm Troutman Sanders Public Affairs. They represent the controversial agri-biotech company Monsanto, public enemy number one for many family farmers and a company that the website “Ethical Investing” names “the world’s most unethical and harmful investment.”
Finally, candidate electability will also be an important factor in the 2008 race for the White House. In a general election that Democrats and progressives see as a must-win for the restoration of American democracy, Clinton’s 48 percent unfavorability rating (based on a recent USA Today-Gallup Poll) is an issue.
It doesn’t help that Republican Party handlers, who are having a difficult time energizing their fractured base, feel that a Clinton run at the White House gives the GOP its best shot at uniting the Party and rallying support from undecided and independent voters.
But, despite all the dire conjecture, Clinton is the frontrunner and a proven survivor. She beat back the GOP attack dogs as First Lady and won her Senate seat in a battle the first time and by a landslide the next.
If none of her challengers make a big move soon, they will all be left in the dust with nothing to do but jockey for a spot on the bottom of her ticket.