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    November 07, 2006

    Election watch: U.S. Senate

    Posted by: Chris

    The big question in the Senate is, of course, whether the Democrats can win six additional seats and take over the majority. Some of the close races that will be key to that quest would be net-gain on gay rights issues, while others would be a wash or arguably a net loss.

    The key races for gay election-watchers:

    1.    Pennsylvania: Republican incumbent Rick Santorum may have a chief spokesman and key aide (Robert Traynham) who is gay, but he's otherwise a complete nightmare on gay issues, from his support for a federal marriage amendment to his infamous warning that a Supreme Court win on sodomy laws would lead to "man-on-dog" sex. Right now he's trailing Democrat Bob Casey, who is anti-abortion and moderate on gay issues (opposes federal marriage amendment, supports Defense of Marriage Act), but still managed the Human Rights Campaign endorsement.

    2.    Virginia: A few hundred miles south in Virginia, George Allen is almost Santorum-lite: He also has several senior aides who are gay, and in the past supported inclusive hate-crime legislation and opposed as unnecessary a federal marriage amendment. Then he started thinking about a White House run and quickly reversed field on both issues. A disastrous re-election campaign has eliminated any chance at national office, and may cost him his re-election, as Democrat Jim Webb is polling dead even or slightly ahead going into Election Day. Like Casey, Santorum's opponent, Webb is a moderate with a moderate gay rights record. He opposes amendments at the federal and state level to ban gay marriage, though he also opposes gay marriage as well. Webb was Ronald Reagan's naval secretary, and has frustrated some gay Democrats in Virginia by refusing to support repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

    3.      Rhode Island: Lincoln Chafee is yet another Republican incumbent in trouble but he's night/day compared with Santorum. Chafee is the only GOP member of Congress that I'm aware of who has publicly backed full marriage equality for gay couples. He also got the HRC endorsement. Polls have shown him trailing Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, who also backs full marriage equality, but the race is a dead-heat going into Election Day. A Democrat win would help them wrest control of the Senate but would deprive gay rights backers of their best GOP advocate in the Senate.

    4.    Ohio: GOP incumbent Mike DeWine backed the federal marriage amendment and has a dismal gay record: His positives on HRC's scorecards over the last six years have been mostly on HIV policy. Compare that with Democratic challenger Sherrod Brown, who as a congressman over the same six years has a near-perfect gay rights record, and the HRC endorsement. Polls show Brown with a runaway lead.

    5.    Missouri: Another anti-gay GOP incumbent, Jim Talent, is vulnerable here, as polls show a dead heat with Democrat Claire McCaskill. Talent has campaigned heavily on his support for a federal marriage amendment, which McCaskill opposes, although she does not support marriage equality for gay couples. HRC has not endorsed in the race.

    6.    Montana: HRC also took a pass in Montana, where GOP incumbent Conrad Burns has a very anti-gay voting record, including support for a federal marriage amendment. Democratic challenger Jon Tester opposes a federal marriage amendment and, while also opposing gay marriage, does back some legal recognition for gay couples.

    7.    Tennessee: Democrats are rooting for Harold Ford, Jr., but he has gay-baited like a Republican in his rush to the right. Republican Bob Corker has tried to paint Ford as more moderate on gay issues, but the truth is they're both horrible.

    8.    Maryland: This vacant Democratic seat is being contested by Democrat Congressman Ben Cardin, who has a near-perfect gay rights record and the HRC endorsement, vs. Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, an African-American who has been a vocal gay marriage opponent. Polls show Cardin ahead but Steele gaining.

    9.    New Jersey: The same dynamics are in play in the tight New Jersey race, where Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez has a strong gay rights record and HRC's backing. In the wake of last month's New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, Republican opponent Tom Kean Jr. has come out in favor of a federal marriage amendment. Menendez is vulnerable but holds a slight lead going into Election Day.
     

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