Santorum Retirement Parties Begin

In Washington, the National Stonewall Democrats gear up for a big battle in November 2006

This past Sunday, instead of enjoying a perfectly blue autumn sky, about 20 men gathered at a private home in Washington, D.C. to raise money for the National Stonewall Democrats’ campaign to defeat Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum.

The party was the culmination of a week of “Santorum Retirement Parties” the NSD has held across the country to mark the one-year point in advance of the election in which the group is confident the Senate’s third-ranking Republican will lose his job.

The Pennsylvania senator has long been on the LGBT hit list for his often strident comments about the place of gays and lesbians in American society. In 2003, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the nation’s anti-gay sodomy laws in the Lawrence v. Texas case, Santorum told the Associated Press that gay sex was on par with pedophilia, incest, and bestiality—bizarrely chatting up the reporter about man-on-dog sex—and therefore never protected under a right to privacy. He also became a major backer of the Federal Marriage Amendment, adopting the radical right’s contention that gay marriage was a threat to the stability of the traditional family.

At the time, Santorum seemed the embodiment of the conservative wave ushered into power after President Bill Clinton left the White House. But now, in the wake of all the problems facing the national Republican Party and the Bush administration, he seems vulnerable for that very reason.

“Pennsylvanians are tired of their senator being an arm of the extreme right,” said Eric Stern, Stonewall’s executive director.

The chances that Santorum might actually find himself unemployed in December 2006 seem good, despite the traditionally high re-election rate of incumbents.

Santorum possesses a record of votes and, more importantly, sometimes flamboyant public statements that can and will be parsed and used against him. His challenger, Democrat Bob Casey, has spent his time in government largely staying away from the public spotlight.

Casey, elected as Pennsylvania’s state treasurer just last year and the son of a popular former governor, Robert Casey, Sr., who died in 2000, is ahead more than 10 points in the polls.

At the Washington event, Stern outlined Stonewall’s plan for defeating Santorum, a strategy he said was based on lessons he learned while campaigning for the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry in Iowa. Foremost, instead of shipping in out-of-state organizers unfamiliar with the territory, a mistake he said Democrats and independent groups supporting Kerry made nationwide, NSD has hired local consultants familiar with Pennsylvania’s issues—all the way down to who is running for the local school board.

“We are committed to only hiring local organizers, who have relationships with local county chairs, with the local Sierra Club, who don’t need to form those relationship two weeks before the election,” Stern said.

The other facet of NSD’s campaign is that it encompasses only Philadelphia and Pennsylvania where most of the state’s LGBT and progressive residents live. It is a strategy calculated to take advantage of the slim margins by which victory often comes these days.

Pennsylvania went for Kerry in 2004 by fewer than 144,000 votes. With 8.4 million registered voters, and 48 percent of them Democrats, motivating the 250,000 estimated LGBT and sympathetic heterosexual voters who primarily reside in the two major urban areas could make the difference. Sensing victory, the Stonewall Democrats have budgeted $600,000 for the anti-Santorum effort, a huge amount for a single race by the standards of LGBT advocacy groups.

Should anyone question a national organization like Stonewall becoming so heavily invested in a state race, Stern countered by saying that Santorum represents something other than just one homophobic politician. His alignment with the right has made him the perfect demonstration target. A defeated Santorum would show the Republican conservative wing that their policies have a price, that targeting gays as a central part of the party’s platform can endanger the GOP’s political future.

“This has ramifications beyond taking out Santorum,” Stern said. “It will show that the use of bigotry has consequences.”

Santorum’s defeat would also signal a momentum shift away from Bush and his political allies among the U.S. electorate. Stern claimed this was already happening with the elections of two Democratic governors in Virginia and New Jersey earlier this month.

“He [Santorum] is the third-highest ranking Senate Republican. His defeat would be as sweet for us as when the Republicans took out Daschle,” Stern said.

Unlike other advocacy groups, Stern also said Stonewall has plans that go beyond a single election. The infrastructure put in place to defeat Santorum will remain. The organizers, offices, and voter lists will be used again and again during other Congressional races, in the 2008 presidential election, and in an expected anti-gay marriage referendum the same year.

“The very long-term goal is to make Democrats beholden to the LGBT vote,” Stern said.

The NSD’s “Santorum Retirement Parties” garnered more than $,8000 for the campaign. More fundraisers are planned throughout the following year.

Services

gaycitynews.com

More from Around NYC