Here are seven states where Barack Obama just bought himself headaches with his historic decision to back gay marriage:
A political rule of thumb: You don’t want to be on the wrong side of an issue supported by 6-in-10 voters. But that’s where the president is in North Carolina, where a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage passed Tuesday by 61 percent to 39 percent. Just 7 of the state’s 100 counties opposed the ballot measure.
North Carolina is no ordinary state. In 2012, it occupies a central location in the political universe – it’s not only a key swing state, it’s the place that will host the Democratic National Convention this summer. Obama won it in 2008, arguably his biggest reach on Election Night, and hoped accepting his re-nomination there would keep it in his column.
But the state was a pretty shaky proposition for Obama this year already, and it just got shakier. After the constitutional amendment – and the backlash against it from gay rights activists – the Democratic National Convention Committee was forced Wednesday to confirm that the convention would remain in Charlotte. That’s not the convention messaging that Democrats are looking for this year.
One day, gay marriage might be enshrined in law across the map. But it won’t be until after the current generation of senior citizens passes away. Not only do they oppose it by lopsided margins, they also vote in disproportionately high percentages.
Consider this fact about Florida, a state with an unusually large population of seniors. Four years ago, Barack Obama and an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment shared the Florida ballot. Obama won the state narrowly, the amendment won by a landslide.
And the amendment won 600,000 more votes than Obama.
The president can still win re-election without Florida’s treasure trove of electoral votes. But he’d prefer not to risk it, which could be the side effect of a public affirmation of support for gay marriage in a state as competitive as Florida.
The new capital of evangelicalism? No, it’s not in the South. It’s Colorado Springs, according to Christianity Today magazine, which once described the city as having “more megachurches, megaseminaries, and mega-Christian activity than any other American city.”
After Denver, Colorado Springs is the largest city in the most important state in the Mountain West – the city is bigger than Cleveland or Pittsburgh. Gay marriage is an issue that resonates there among Christian conservatives and it’s the kind of issue that can get evangelical voters very enthusiastic about the prospect of voting for Mitt Romney.
The evidence of that came in 2006, when Colorado voters passed an amendment to outlaw gay marriage – a measure strongly supported by the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family. While the state voted in favor of the constitutional amendment, 55 percent to 45 percent, in Colorado Springs’ El Paso County the numbers were far greater — 66 percent voted for the measure. More pro-amendment votes were cast there than in any other county in the state.
Colorado is the kind of place that helps Team Obama sleep a little more soundly at night, because it’s a hedge in case Florida flips back Republican, or Ohio or Virginia drifts back to red. Any leg-up for Romney there would be bad news back in Chicago.
Utah may be the LDS heartland, but Nevada ranks among the top 5 states in terms of percentage of Mormon population. And the LDS church opposes gay marriage.
While Mormons aren’t a significant Democratic constituency — and especially not with Romney in the race — it’s best not to antagonize any constituency in a swing state like Nevada, where the presidential outcome in 2000 and 2004 was decided by less than 25,000 votes.
“Overall in Nevada, it hurts. To what degree is hard to determine,” said Pete Ernaut, a former GOP state legislator and a confidant of Gov. Brian Sandoval. “The issue here is about a toss-up, with voters about evenly split. But that said, there are key constituencies affected by this, most notably Mormon voters – and specifically Democratic Mormon voters – and that is going to be a difficult issue for the president."
In 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court made history with its unanimous decision to allow same-sex marriage.
One year later, Iowa voters made history again by ousting three of the justices who handed down that ruling.
The backlash was as extreme as it sounds: their removal from the high court was the first time an Iowa Supreme Court justice wasn’t retained in nearly a half-century.
And the issue echoed through the 2010 governor’s race as well. Republican Terry Branstad argued that the court was wrong to strike down the state law banning same-sex marriage and advocated a constitutional amendment to re-institute the ban. His Democratic opponent, Gov. Chad Culver, disagreed on the idea of putting the court decision to a vote.
Culver lost his re-election bid, though not solely because of his position on same-sex marriage. Still, it didn’t help him, and that’s the risk Obama takes there. Obama and Iowa go way back — he’s president today because he dealt Hillary Clinton a third-place finish there in the 2008 caucuses — but it’s a state where just one percentage point divided the presidential nominees in 2000 and 2004.
There are many Democrats who already concede Missouri is a lost cause for Obama in 2012, even though he only lost to John McCain there by a razor-close margin in 2008.
Wednesday’s announcement only makes the situation worse. In a state where there’s no room for error, the president has taken a position that places him at odds with 71 percent of the state – at least that’s the percentage that voted to ban gay marriage when it was on the ballot in 2004.
There’s a very good chance that number has eroded since then. But not enough for it to be an asset, in a state where Obama’s strength in St. Louis, Kansas City and some surrounding suburbs is counterbalanced by the parts of the state that sit squarely in the Bible Belt.
It’s often said that the 2004 gay marriage initiative that passed in Ohio played a key role in lifting George W. Bush to victory over John Kerry. Whether that’s true or not – Bush strategist Matthew Dowd argued Wednesday that it’s not – it’s an issue that resonates outside of Democratic vote centers like Columbus and Cleveland.
In 2004, here’s how state GOP chairman Robert Bennett framed it to the New York Times. “I’d be naïve if I didn’t say it helped,” he said. “And it helped most in what we refer to as the Bible Belt area of southeastern and southwestern Ohio, where we had the largest percentage increase in support for the president."
Recent polls continue to show that a majority in Ohio oppose gay marriage, compared to only about one-third of voters who support it. And, as POLITICO reported Wednesday, when Vice President Joe Biden privately argued for the president to refrain from expressing his support, he flagged two states where there could be a backlash — his native Pennsylvania and Ohio.