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First Thoughts: How gay marriage has disappeared as a political issue (for now)

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

A protester raises a flag outside of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 26, 2013.

How gay marriage has disappeared as a political issue (at least for now)… The power (and limits) of public opinion… Tim Johnson is expected not to seek re-election in 2014… Bill Clinton endorses HRC backer Wendy Greuel in LA mayoral race… NYT writes about “volatile” and “temperamental” Christine Quinn… And more SENATE MADNESS….

*** How gay marriage has disappeared as a political issue (for now): This time a year ago, when the Supreme Court was beginning oral arguments to decide the fate of President Obama’s health-care law, the political world was engaged in all-out conflict. Democrats and the White House fiercely backed the law on constitutional merits, while Republicans and the Romney campaign vociferously opposed it. But as the Supreme Court begins two days of oral arguments for this year’s two high profile cases -- on the topic of gay marriage -- it’s worth observing how it’s largely disappeared as a true political issue between the parties. While Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans spent millions to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which the court considers tomorrow, you haven’t seen them recently hold a press conference outside the court to support the law and denounce gay marriage (though Boehner did comment on the matter last Thursday). While the 2012 Republican national platform maintained that “the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard,” the Republican National Committee hasn’t been blasting out press releases. Ditto the Democratic National Committee, whose 2012 platform supported gay marriage. Part of this is due to the change in public opinion (see below). And part of it is that we’re not in the midst of a presidential campaign. Of course, politics can always change, but the relative silence -- at least for now, and compared with health care a year ago -- is deafening.

Chad Griffin, a plaintiff in the case against California's Proposition 8, speaks about the importance of the day before heading to the Supreme Court Tuesday.

*** The power (and limits) of public opinion: It’s also notable how quickly public opinion has changed on this subject. Back in 2004 -- when it was used as a wedge issue in that year’s presidential election -- just 30% of Americans favored gay marriage, while 62% opposed it, according to the NBC/WSJ poll. In 2009, those supporting it increased to 41%, and the percentage jumped to 49% in March 2012. And most recently, in Dec. 2012, a majority of respondents (51%) for the first time in the poll said they backed gay marriage. That’s an increase of 21 percentage points in just one year. What’s more, a March 2013 Washington Post/ABC poll found nearly six in 10 (58%) supporting gay marriage. This helps explain why so many national politicians -- President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Rob Portman, Claire McCaskill, and Mark Warner -- now support gay marriage; in fact, Obama’s reversal came less than a year ago. But it’s equally important to note the limits of this change in public opinion. As Georgetown University law professor David Cole writes in the New York Times, “Same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, but is the country ready for a decision requiring all 50 states to recognize such unions immediately?” Cole also asks if there would be a backlash (like what occurred after Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade) among the 40% who oppose gay marriage.

*** Tim Johnson isn’t expected to seek re-election in 2014: At 4:00 pm ET today in South Dakota, Sen. Tim Johnson is holding a press conference to announce his intentions about 2014, when his Senate term expires. And as First Read reported yesterday, Johnson is expected to announce that he WON’T be seeking re-election, according to a top Democratic aide. Democrats are hoping to be able to recruit former Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD). But make no mistake: This is a top GOP pick-up opportunity, especially in a midterm year. Here’s our retirement watch for 2014: The Democrats -- so far -- have to defend six open seats (West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller, Massachusetts’ John Kerry, Iowa’s Tom Harkin, New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg, Michigan’s Carl Levin, and South Dakota’s Tim Johnson), versus two for Republicans (Nebraska’s Johanns and Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss).

*** Bill Clinton endorses HRC backer Greuel in LA mayoral race: It’s amazing to think that the Obama-vs.-Hillary Democratic primary was five years ago, but Bill Clinton is still endorsing candidates who backed his wife over Obama. The latest example: L.A. mayoral hopeful Wendy Greuel. “Former President Bill Clinton on Monday endorsed Wendy Greuel for Los Angeles mayor, saying the city controller’s proven track record makes her the right candidate to confront the city’s problems,” the Los Angeles Times says. “Clinton has often endorsed people who have been loyal to his family, either helpful during his time at the White House or supporters of his wife’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential run. Greuel fits both categories -- in addition to being an early and active backer of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, she worked in the Clinton administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development." Meanwhile, Greuel's run-off opponent is Eric Garcetti, who was a big supporter of Barack Obama's in 2008.

*** “Volatile” and “temperamental”? And speaking of this year’s mayoral races, the New York Times writes this piece on NYC mayoral front-runner Christine Quinn. “As she pursues a high-profile bid for mayor, Ms. Quinn, a Democrat, has proudly promoted her boisterous personality, hoping that voters will embrace her blend of brashness and personal charm. But in private, friends and colleagues say, another Ms. Quinn can emerge: controlling, temperamental and surprisingly volatile, with a habit of hair-trigger eruptions of unchecked, face-to-face wrath. She has threatened, repeatedly, to slice off the private parts of those who cross her.” But here’s our question: Isn’t it unusual in politics -- especially New York City politics!!! -- if a politician didn’t have a temper and didn’t threaten those that cross them?

*** Senate Madness -- results from yesterday’s contests: Not surprisingly, all our No. 1 seeds -- Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, LBJ, and Ted Kennedy -- easily advanced yesterday to the next round. In addition, William Seward defeated John Sherman in the 19th Century bracket; Sam Ervin topped Harry Byrd in the Mixed Era bracket; Robert Wagner bested Hugo Black in the 20th Century bracket; and Robert Byrd triumphed over Tom Daschle in the Modern Era. Our second-round contests start next week.

*** Senate Madness -- today’s first-round match ups: Meanwhile, these are the contests that are taking place today (see here and here). In the 19th Century era, #2 seed John C. Calhoun faces off against #15 seed Marcus Hanna, and #7 Thomas Hart Benton competes against #10 James G. Blaine… In the Mixed Era region, #2 Henry Cabot Lodge battles #15 Phil Hart, while #7 Arthur Vandenberg takes on #10 Gerald Nye… In the 20th Century, it’s #2 Everett Dirksen vs. #15 Margaret Chase Smith, and #7 Robert Taft vs. #10 William Fulbright… And in the Modern Era region, it’s #2 Daniel Patrick Moynihan vs. #15 George Mitchell, and #7 Ed Muskie vs. #10 Bob Dole. We’ll have more first-round match ups tomorrow.

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