The consensus around President Obama's public endorsement of marriage equality this week seems to be that it's a solid net plus for him politically. It's very unlikely that he'll lose many if any net votes over this statement, and already it's fueling a surge of donations and energy around a heretofore somewhat demotivated Democratic base. I thought it was kind of cynical in terms of the timing, yet I'll admit the announcement had me considering going into pocket for the president for the first time in this cycle.
One thing I haven't seen in the coverage, however, is how Obama's announcement might impact the race in terms of a powerful centrist figure whose own view on marriage equality long has been known: Mayor Bloomberg. Check out this item from Tuesday, the day before Obama made his statement; then consider what Bloomberg said following Obama's declaration of support:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg called President Barack Obama’s newly announced support for same-sex marriage “a major turning point in the history of American civil rights.”
“No American president has ever supported a major expansion of civil rights that has not ultimately been adopted by the American people — and I have no doubt that this will be no exception,” Bloomberg said in a statement today.
Mayor Bloomberg carries a kind of totemic power for a small but important segment of the electorate (not to mention outsized, borderline-absurd-and-embarrassing influence within certain pundit precincts). My father is one of those voters who just digs the guy. He's very suspicious of Obama, not particularly turned on by Romney, more or less indifferent to social issues, and basically looking for someone to make government function, as he perceives (with some justification... says the City employee) Bloomberg to have done in NYC. I'm fairly sure that were Bloomberg to endorse Romney, that would signal to my dad, and probably at least a few hundred thousand other politically homeless but fairly engaged types, that the Republican is the better of two tepid choices. I don't know for sure that these folks tend to concentrate in swing states, but it's not hard to imagine them in Pennsylvania (where Dad lives), Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Colorado.
I have no information whatsoever, but prior to Obama's announcement, I would have put the odds of Bloomberg endorsing Romney at something like 50 percent. The presumptive Republican nominee certainly is gunning for the mayor's blessing (as is the president). Notwithstanding their serious policy differences on abortion and gun rights, I suspect that Bloomberg is much more personally comfortable with Romney, a fellow rich guy and sharp-elbowed capitalist who in his Massachusetts guise wasn't really at odds with Bloomberg's social views, than the former community organizer and occasional Wall Street critic in the White House. Yes, the City Bloomberg governs will go something like 75 percent for the president, and the administration he leads likely an even higher percentage, but the mayor won't face the voters again and, mostly for better and occasionally for worse, he's shown on many occasions that he forms and states his opinions without concern for what his constituents or subordinates think.
Now, though, a Romney endorsement will prompt a barrage of questions on how he can support a candidate whose public position on perhaps the defining civil rights issue of the era is inimical to the mayor's own strong and oft-voiced view. He'll have to face friends and colleagues who are in same-sex marriages, including his likely candidate of choice to succeed him, Council Speaker Christine Quinn (who's getting married a week from today). He can say that the economic issues, and particularly Romney's position on finance-industry deregulation, trump everything else, and maybe he will. But I have trouble seeing it--particularly considering the questions of legacy that now occupy so much of the thinking on the part of the mayor and his close advisors.
I don't think Bloomberg will endorse the president; I just don't believe he likes the man, or sees him as good for the City. But I think Obama's announcement has cut the odds of Mayor Bloomberg endorsing Romney by quite a bit, and I'm not sure that wasn't somewhere in his head when he made the decision. Meanwhile, I'll keep working on my dad.