Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Peril of the Tempting Target

In the wake of California's recent ruling legalizing gay marriage, Rick Hasen wonders if the state supreme court might have done John McCain a favor (via Volokh). The ruling almost definitely will place an initiative on the ballot seeking to overturn the decision. Hasen argues that
This helps John McCain because those conservative voters may not have come out in great numbers for him, but they will come out now to vote for this amendment, and they are more likely to vote for McCain than for the Democrat once they are already voting. That's not to say that California will go red, but it is to say that the Democratic nominee will have to devote more resources to this very expensive to campaign in state.

And I admit, this was my first thought too.

But thinking about it more, this might actually prove dangerous for McCain and his cash-strapped campaign. California is, as was mentioned, a very expensive state to campaign in. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't surprise me to see McCain write it off entirely as a waste of resources. The gay marriage ruling might mobilize conservatives enough so as to convince McCain to make a play there. But if he does, he'll have to devote resources too -- and he has far less to spare than the Democrats do.

I'm reminded of Republicans investing in the 2006 New Jersey Senate race in a year where they also had their backs against the wall. Like California, New Jersey is pretty blue and very expensive to campaign in. Republicans were convinced that Robert Menendez was a beatable Democratic candidate though, so they decided to contest it. They ended up losing (just as they still likely will in California), and the resources they put into the Garden State would have been invaluable in states that were objectively much closer fights: Virginia, Missouri, and South Dakota. Had they not been tempted by New Jersey, they might well still have control of the Senate today. Similarly, if the gay marriage ruling tempts McCain to make a play for California, he might regret if it draws desperately needed campaign resources away from true battleground states. Democrats can afford to play the 50-state field -- Republicans this year can't.

1 comment:

PG said...

McCain already had religious conservatives in his camp because he has been strongly and consistently pro-life with regard to abortion, and for those religious conservatives who care about the already-living, also has taken a stance against torture. McCain's real weakness in the GOP is among those with libertarian inclinations, to whom he is anathema because of campaign finance reform. His severe wobbliness on government interventions -- e.g., his switching sides on doing something about the housing crisis -- also isn't popular among economic conservatives. These, not the religious conservatives, are the folks who are talking about staying home rather than voting for McCain.

While such people are antagonistic toward gay-marriage-through-courts, and might show up to vote just to try to get the amendment passed, I don't think they'll change their minds about voting for McCain.