As public support for same-sex marriage continues to rise, some Republican consultants think support for gay marriage could be a winning strategy for GOP candidates in the not-so-distant future.
Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) recently joined what's being dubbed the “Ken Mehlman sliver of the party” by conservatives and announced their support for same-sex marriage.
Portman is up for reelection in 2016 and has been a rumored presidential hopeful. And some consultants are at least asking whether GOP politicians like Portman might be positioned to capitalize on an issue Republicans are used to touting their opposition to.
"Republicans who are on the side of the freedom to marry are going to be the beneficiaries in the long run," says David Kochel, founder of Redwave Communications, who consulted for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Still, Kochel says it's too early to tell if that benefit will be in place by 2016.
“I think GOP candidates who understand how to frame their support with the public will find that they've broadened their appeal outside of a shrinking base who oppose civil marriage,” Kochel tells C&E. “Some of it will hinge on what the [Supreme Court] says. That could have an impact on public perception.”
Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 cases, Mark McKinnon, a senior advisor at Hill + Knowlton Strategies, is convinced that gay marriage is losing its power as a campaign issue.
“Gay marriage simply will not be an issue in future campaigns,” he says.
Mark Blankenship, a West Virginia-based GOP pollster, doesn’t see that shift happening quite so quickly, however.
“It’s one of those issues like gun control or any of the so-called cultural issues that motivate people to volunteer for campaigns, to donate to campaigns, to go door-to-door for campaigns,” he says. “And that’s on both sides of the issue.”