May 06, 2008
A nonsensical non-endorsement from HRC
Posted by: Chris
UPDATE: Kay Hagan won today's North Carolina Democratic primary by a landslide, taking 61% of the vote to Jim Neal's 20%. Keep in mind there were five candidates in the race and Neal placed second, but still it was a blowout. No doubt Neal's very long odds played into HRC's decision not to endorse -- echoed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which also steered clear of the race.
I still view those decisions as unfortunate and short-sighted, not to mention self-fulfilling. Neal's candidacy was credible and generated a great deal of grassroots excitement among LGBT folks and a number of progressives in and out of North Carolina. With the assistance of groups like HRC and the Victory Fund, Neal would no doubt have performed better -- laying the groundwork for himself and others.
In the last two decades, the LGBT groups in Washington have become incredibly more sophisticated politically, and that's mostly a very good thing. But sometimes their inside-the-Beltway mentality prevents them from taking risks and investing in the future, even when conventional analysis sees a particular contest as a huge longshot.
ORIGINAL POST: I'm behind the curve commenting on the recent decision by our blinded-by-the-Beltway friends at the Human Rights Campaign not to endorse any candidate in the North Carolina Democratic Senate primary. Controversial endorsement calls have actually been one of the few areas historically that I've generally agreed with and defended HRC (yes, publicly).
But the "no nod" in the race between openly gay businessman Jim Neal and veteran state Sen. Kay Hagan is a head-scratcher of an entirely different sort. By most accounts, Neal has run a smart campaign and against the odds has polled well enough to appear viable in the contest with Hagan to see who will challenge vulnerable GOP incumbent Elizabeth Dole.
Hagan apparently has a strong gay rights record, but there's a fundamental difference between a gay candidate and a gay-friendly candidate. History has shown over and over just how more effective and instrumental openly gay elected officials can be; just look at Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin in the House.
The election of an openly gay U.S. senator, especially from the Deep South, would be ground-breaking and historic. And even if Neal should fall short, a primary victory or even a respectable finish lays important groundwork for the future -- for Neal himself and other out contenders as well as politicians still cowering in the closet.
The smart folks over at HRC know all this, of course, but as on so many issues they are loathe to rock the boat for fear of offending Democratic party chieftains, who are backing Hagan, or mucking up their cherished win-loss record in endorsed races -- a tally artificially propped up by backing a buttload of completely safe incumbents.
It's time for HRC to grow a pair, to use a testicular metaphor of the sort being tossed at Hillary Clinton of late, and show the big-equals-org isn't simply the tool of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign. Committee.
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