Dean and MA

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(Host) Commentator Barrie Dunsmore says that the recent court decision in Massachusetts regarding same-sex marriage will challenge Howard Dean on the campaign trail.

(Dunsmore) The Massachusetts Supreme Court’s decision to allow gay couples to marry is bad news for the Democrats and even worse news for Vermont’s former Governor Howard Dean. Until now, Vermont’s civil unions law has not seemed to be a factor in Dean’s effort to win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. But that is about to change.

If ever there was an issue to galvanize the evangelical, fundamentalist, and ultra-conservatives of the Republican Party, this is it. As a report in the Wall Street Journal put it, “The cultural wars just went nuclear.” Republican Party leaders have vowed to decide whether a constitutional amendment best suits their political purposes. But however they play it, this issue will be front and center during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Most of the Democratic Party’s presidential hopefuls have been careful to draw a line between civil rights for gay couples, which they support – and actual gay marriage, which they don’t. In the past, Dean himself has made such a distinction. But in the political battle ahead, Republicans are not going to allow any Democratic candidate for President to hide behind such nuances.

Dean became the front-runner in the Democratic race because of his opposition to the war in Iraq and his plans to repeal the Bush tax cuts and to broaden national health care. That seems just fine with many people in Iowa and New Hampshire, where voting starts in just two months and where Dean is the favorite.

But Dean’s positions, and his pugnacity, are giving fits to much of the Democratic Party establishment, which is increasingly worried that Dean cannot beat George W. Bush. And if gay marriage becomes a “wedge issue,” as now seems very likely, the man who actually signed a civil unions bill into law will be even more vulnerable.

Unfortunately for Dean, there are hard numbers to support this view. In a recent major survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 59 percent of Americans said they oppose gay marriage. And it’s not just the number of opponents. It’s also where they live. Many of them of course, are in the South, where white, evangelical Protestants have given Republicans virtual control.

The most support for gay marriages would be on the east and west coasts, where the Democrats are strongest.

So that leaves the Mid-West as the key area where many political strategists are now saying the 2004 election will be decided. Now you might think that big states like Ohio, where thousands of manufacturing jobs have been lost under Bush, would be more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate who was sympathetic to working people.

Not necessarily. Again, according to the Pew survey, Ohio is among those states with the most “traditional social values.” In other words, they won’t like the idea of gay marriages. Nor are they likely to vote for anyone who appears to favor such a thing.

That’s why Karl Rove, the White House “Rasputin,” also known as “Bush’s brain,” is now said to be almost salivating at the thought of running against Howard Dean.

This is Barrie Dunsmore.

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