2008 NC Election Results Refute Old Ideas About Politics and LGBT Equality

There was a time not so long ago (say, last year) that some Democratic party consultants and “leaders” still clung to the belief that gay issues were too toxic for the Democratic party to touch in The Old North State.

While this myth has been crumbling for years, the 2008 elections finally swept away any remaining shred of this falsehood.

At the statewide level, the NC GOP, in league with incumbent GOP Senator Elizabeth Dole attempted to smear Democrat Kay Hagan specifically using the topic of gay marriage. As reported in several outlets including (http://pageoneq.com/news/2008/haganmailer1023.html), an anti-Hagan direct mail piece went out with a picture two groom figures and a quote from the executive director of NC’s LGBT advocacy group. However, even in the supposedly less gay-friendly eastern third of the state, Hagan soundly beat Dole and Hagan colored more counties blue than any other part of the state.

More importantly for NC Democrats and their legislative leadership, no state legislator lost their seat due to their support of LGBT issues. This is particularly notable as Democratic legislators have often used the “I can’t vote for this in my district argument” when it comes to LGBT issues.

The truth is that only two incumbent Democratic members of the NC House lost their seats in the 2008 general election, neither because of gay issues. One of those members (former Rep. Walter Church) was actually a co-sponsor of the anti-gay marriage amendment. Obviously this anti-gay pandering didn’t save former Rep. Church even in his presumably necessarily anti-gay district.

The case with former Rep. Church also highlights a key fallacy that conservative Democrats and some party consultants always fall for. They delude themselves to believe (or make the excuse) that if they are just allowed to demonstrate some ultra-conservative bona fides, their Republican opposition will truly vote for them.

Do they really think that the NC Family Policy Council folks or similar anti-gay zealots are voting for Democrats even if the Democrat caves on gay issues? That conclusion is simply delusional.

Also most of you know that openly lesbian Senator Julia Boseman won reelection to a third term in a very tough race, but her race wasn’t even the closest margin of the NC state Senate races in 2008.

Additionally, just as Kay Hagan weathered an anti-gay attack this year, another perennial target of anti-gay smears in his less than urban district, Senator Doug Berger, whipped his opponent by a 2-1 margin.

I’m sure some of you have done so already, but take a look at the 2008 general election statewide color-coded maps from on the State Board of Elections website (http://www.sboe.state.nc.us). The 14-17 counties that hold more than half of the state’s population are almost always colored blue in every statewide race. The “gay party” label didn’t hurt Democrats in 2008.

As time passes, LGBT issues will be even less controversial when the 2010 election rolls around. The only question is if Democratic leaders recognize the bluff of false scare tactics from voters who aren’t voting Democratic anyway. The 2008 NC elections proved that the anti-LGBT equality forces are folks Democrats can win without.


What this past election really told us

I think every demo with an issue has posted here on BlueNC and/or on other blogs that this past election that saw a landslide for the democratic party overall as justifying or sanctioning or making correct that particular issue.

I know that makes these folks feel all warm and fuzzy...but, it's not what this past election told us. Barack Obama and the other democrat candidates that won...in large part...won because of anti-republican sentiment based mostly because of the horrendous state of the economy and because the republican party had an inept president making idiotic decisions and acting like he was God's gift to the world while nearly taking it to ruins.

The best thinking is independent thinking.

Once again you miss the point

The point is that we've been told over and over that this issue is so radioactive that it will costs Democrats seats come election time.

Once again, that argument has proven to be untrue.

This conclusion does not conflict with your theory that all Republicans were doomed in 2008.

In fact, your conclusion reinforces that the fact that gay issues are not a lighting rod that will somehow override a swing voter's thoughts and prevent them from voting for a gay-supportive Democrat.

Gay issues or other social issues are not the holy grail for Republicans even in NC. It's time Democrats realized that and called their bluff.


I wish you were right...

But with the defeat of anti-bullying legislation last year, the defeat of Judge Arrowood on the Court of Appeals, and of course the passage of Prop 8 leaves me pessimistic about widespread support of LGBT issues. Now, don't get me wrong, we do not give up the fight. But to say that 2008 was a victory for the LGBT community and a mandate for more friendly LGBT policy...I'm not so sure.

In my opinion, the flag-waving of "abortion and gay marriage" didn't work in 2009 given the overwhelming issue of the economy. Trust me, the GOP, unfortunately, has not given up that flag. The vast majority of states have passed anti-marriage constitutional amendments, and the only reason it hasn't happened in our state is b/c of our legislative leadership team in Raleigh.

I'm certainly no expert, but I don't know what the best way to maintain the movement is in North Carolina. I think we should try for anti-bullying legislation again this year, and just ensure we better mobilize MANY interest groups in supporting this (especially the education sector). There are many social (and, in some respects, legal) things that need to happen to help advance LGBT rights in the state and country. Like I said, I've grown pessimistic, but this is a year of hope and change, so anything is possible.

Arrowood vs. which Bob Hunter?

Even at the Democratic party on election night, I overheard folks telling Democratic Judge Bob Hunter that they voted for him. He just shook his head (since of course, he wasn't up for election).

If even loyal Democrats attending the election night party were confused in the Arrowood-Hunter race, I'm confident that gay issues weren't the deciding factor.

In fact, the margin in Arrowood's judicial race was one of the closest for the Court of Appeals races. Linda Stephens has the biggest margin of victory, followed by Cheri Beasley, then others. The GOP's Bob Hunter beat Arrowood by lesser margins.

The Arrowood race was defined by the "Bob Hunter" confusion, not gay issues.

The defeat of the anti-bullying bill lays in the irrational fear of Senate Democratic consultants. They've been proven wrong. It's their time to act this year.


What the election told us

was that some of the issues the Republican Party chose to champion were less important to their base than dollars and cents issues.

Using morality might have worked in the past, but trying to use the gay marriage issue as a badge of Conservative honor, and then Liddy's self-destructive "Godless Americans" attack against Kay, while people are really worried about economic issues like keeping their jobs and paying their bills, is actually almost an insult to the intelligence of those folks.

I do agree that Bush's performance in office has hurt you guys, but Liddy Dole's did also. Her support for CAFTA and other free trade issues like her opposition to punishing U.S. companies that send jobs overseas, is not something North Carolinians are very fond of. And her attempt to use morality to "change the subject" so voters would forget about the things she did (and did not do) not only didn't work, it pissed off quite a few people. Not just because she tried to use religion as a stick to beat Kay with, it also showed contempt for the voters she tried to manipulate.

qualified agreement

Polls and elections nationally--at this point--seem to tell us that gay-bashing has lost its power to move swing voters. In most of North Carolina, certainly at least in urbanized North Carolina, that seems to be the case as well. (The electoral jury may still be out in conservative rural areas.)

The one exception, and it is a glaring one, is the specific sub-issue of gay marriage. Initiatives and referenda barring gay marriage are still prevailing, even in otherwise progressive states like California.

My fellow advocates please note, this caveat applies only to law which labels unions and partnerships as "marriage". That term is still symbolically a deal-breaker for swing voters. Alternative means of providing equal access to the civil law benefits of marriage--adoption, visitation, benefits, etc.--seem perfectly distinguishable in the minds of most swing voters (at least according to polls).

I'm not going to latch onto the progressive politics equivalent of a third rail and try to explain or defend that distinction in rational terms. I only point to it as a fact, and postulate that it is unlikely to change quickly.

How critical in the short (or even medium) term is insistence on the use of the term "marriage", if equivalent civil rights and responsibilities for real people can be obtained more swiftly through acceptance of alternative terminology?

I believe that reasonable people can and do differ on the answer to that question. I invite my fellow advocates for LGBT equality to ponder it seriously as we move into a political era where swift substantive progress toward broad equality is a real opportunity.

Dan Besse