by Bob Geary
We're a big state, so mounting a statewide TV advertising campaign is expensive — and until today the campaign against Amendment 1 couldn't afford it. But with two weeks and a day until the May 8 primary (and with early voting already under way), it's now or never. The good news is, it's now. Two anti-Amendment 1 ads went up this morning in every TV market, and time's been purchased to keep them on the air statewide for the next two weeks.
The other news is, the campaign needs a lot more money fast to buy enough time to make these ads work. More on the subject of money and tactics below.
[Update, 4/24: The new PPP survey shows Amendment 1 favored for passage by 14 points, but the margin is down and the momentum is with the opponents. Get the message out that the amendment would bar recognition of same-gender marriages and also civil unions and the margin swings the other way, with voters opposed by 8 points.]
The two ads underline the campaign's strategy of not attacking Amendment 1 head-on, with a message that it's time for equal rights for gays, but rather of ambushing it with arguments that Amendment 1 will hurt children and put victims of domestic violence in jeopardy.
Notice, for example, that the first ad glosses over the question whether the parents of the child who could lose health-insurance coverage are gay or straight — all we know from the ad is that the parents are unmarried:
According to the campaign, the mom in the ad is real — not an actress — and.
"Melissa," our first ad, highlights the harms of Amendment One and the danger that it will take health care away from North Carolinians. Melissa, along with her partner Libby, have a five year old daughter. Melissa and her daughter are covered under the city of Durham's domestic partnership benefits plan. If the amendment passes, they are afraid of what will happen if their daughter loses health care as experts believe that she will.
Durham is one of nine local governments in North Carolina (Durham County is another, and three more are in Orange County) that provide health insurance benefits on an equal basis to: 1) married employees and their families, and 2) gay partners and their families.
The nine governments would almost certainly be barred (Amendment 1's sponsors say they'd be barred) from continuing these domestic-partner benefits under Amendment 1 — though the many private employers that offer such benefits would not be impacted.
The second ad: The issue of whether Amendment 1 could undermine the state's domestic violence laws is hotly disputed by the amendment's backers. But the anti-Amendment 1 team argues that it's possible (and it should be noted that the woman in the ad is real ... and she clearly thinks Amendment 1 is dangerous):
"Consequences," our second ad, tells the story of a domestic violence surviver. She is afraid that a court would decide that her situation is no longer classified as domestic violence and her protective order could be put in jeopardy.
I must say, I'm not a big fan of the campaign's messaging. I think the clearest, and therefore strongest argument against Amendment 1 is that it would preclude the state — "we, the people," acting through our elected representatives — from ever changing the marriage laws to recognize same-sex unions, whether as "marriages" or "civil unions" or some other name that means marriage. It is, in short, undemocratic, in the same awful way the original U.S. Constitution was used to put slavery beyond the reach of the people or Congress to abolish.
The "unintended harms" approach that the anti-Amendment 1 side has adopted instead, it seems to me, is a way of not saying that the intended harm is to marginalize and discriminate against LGBT citizens.
On the other hand, I do understand — having had it explained to me a half-dozen times now — why the campaign named itself the Coalition to Protect NC Families, and why it's taken this pro-children, pro-women, but not pro-gay approach.
Gay-rights advocates are against Amendment 1 and they don't need to be told why it's a terrible thing or how it's discriminatory. Nor, hopefully, do they need to be hectored into voting the right way with TV ads. They do need to be contacted and reminded that May 8 — oddly, because it's a primary elections day — is when this thing will be decided. The campaign is contacting them, by phone, by social media, and by messages on college campuses; and these messages are about Amendment 1's intended discrimination.
But polling indicated — and continues to indicate — that if Amendment 1 is framed as a question of equal rights for gays, there aren't enough likely voters on the pro-gay rights side to defeat it. And defeating it is the point of the campaign. Which means that some people who say they'll vote for Amendment 1 — and who will vote — need to be turned around.
In a conference call with bloggers last night, the leaders of the anti-Amendment 1 campaign emphasized that they are targeting a relatively narrow group of likely primary voters who lean in favor today but who may vote against if they think there's any chance it will hurt children or women. This target group: older, religious-minded, African-American Democratic voters, especially women.
Given that there is a Democratic primary for governor, and a Democratic primary for governor between two African-American candidates (one of whom is Linda Coleman), this target demographic may be narrow, but it's not small — it's a big, big group of potential May 8 voters.
"We're determined to be aggressive and strategic," said Jeremy Kennedy, the coalition's campaign manager. By strategic, I'm pretty sure he meant using a message that will move votes, not one — like mine — that would appeal to people who already support gay rights but won't move the people who don't.
OK, but we've all seen the polls showing that while a majority of North Carolinians (citizens, voters, likely voters) oppose recognizing gay marriages, there's a potential majority to be had by adding the one-third who do support gay marriage and the one-third who don't but would support civil unions as a compromise.
I think the argument that a vote for Amendment 1 is a vote against ever reaching a compromise ... or ever extending any legal recognition to same-gender unions ... is a more understandable one than trying to convince people that putting a one-man, one-woman definition of marriage into the constitution will somehow cost children their health insurance.
However, Kennedy and the rest of the campaign team tell us that their research is clear, the only arguments that move votes are about harms to children and women. Not only that, but the ads they've made — including the ones above — did move a substantial number of votes in the targeted group when they were tested, they said.
"This was always an uphill battle," Chad Griffin said. But he said it's winnable if enough people hear about the amendment's "harmful impacts."
Griffin produced the ads along with Lance Black; Griffin is also incoming president of the Human Rights Campaign.
The other side started with a 20-point lead and still has it, or most of it, the organizers acknowledged. But with two weeks to go, they added, it's a lead that could disappear quickly if they can put enough money behind their advertising.
"This race is winnable," Black agreed.
To win it, though, they'll need to outspend the pro-Amendment 1 side by 2-to-1 on TV, the organizers said. Thus far, the money hasn't come in to do more than match them 1-to-1.
Kennedy still hopes for a "fully funded" campaign of about $3 million, he said. That figure includes paying for seven campaign offices around the state, 22 paid field organizers (so far) and a robust mail and GOTV (Get Out the Vote) effort, plus some radio. The mail will target African-American voters by address.
It isn't all TV, in other words.
But unless the pace of giving picks up, Kennedy said, they won't get to $3 million. Kennedy wouldn't say exactly how much the coalition's brought in. [They don't want the other side to know all their business, he said. And state reporting requirements, notoriously minimal, don't call for a full accounting until 10 days before the May 8 voting.]
The fundraising figure is above $1.5 million and less than $2 million, I gathered — but do realize that fundraising always picks up at the end, especially when TV ads begin and make the campaign "real."
So $3 million is not out of the question. In fact, $600,000 has been raised online ... and according to Nation Hahn, $300,000 of it was donated in the last three weeks. Hahn, who's with a p.r. firm called New Kind in Raleigh, is doing social media for the cause.
Bottom line, said Kennedy, Hahn and everyone else who was on the call, if you've been thinking that you'll give something to the campaign between now and May 8, give it TODAY. Money that arrives by May 4 can be used to buy time through May 8, they said. But the sooner it arrives, the sooner it can put to use buying the most desirable time — before Democratic primary candidates grab it all for themselves.
Campaign organizers are also hoping that, now that they're on TV, the anti-Amendment 1 campaign will start to attract attention — and money — from national donors. As Black said, there are wealthy LGBT-cause supporters out there who are very capable of writing six-figure checks to the campaign, but so far the only big checks they've written are to Obama for President and the committee organizing the Democratic National Convention.
The presidential campaign and a few high-level state campaigns (the effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, for example) have dominated the 2012 politics so far, relegating the Amendment 1 fight in North Carolina to the back burners, Black and Griffin said.
But in the final two weeks, if national donors see that there's a chance to defeat an anti-gay measure in a major Southern state, they could come charging into the campaign — and they could make the difference.