The Corner

Mary Cheney

The idea that Kerry mentioned Ms. Cheney deliberately, in the hope of

peeling off some votes from the un-compassionate conservative bloc, does not

seem to have found much favor.

It seems to me entirely plausible, though. By the third debate, it was late

in the campaign, and any big-issue voter has made up his mind. If you think

abortion is murder, you’re not going to vote for John Kerry; if you think US

forces should operate abroad only under daily orders signed by the UN

Security Council, you won’t be voting for Bush. We are down to secondary

appeals — peeling off groups of “undecided” (i.e. not-very-attentive,

no-big-issue) voters. How do you do that? Say something that catches their

attention.

A thing we are barely allowed to say out loud any more, but which comes out

clearly in polls, is that huge numbers of Americans don’t like the

promotion, or even the open expression, of homosexuality. For example:

Polled by Gallup in May 2003, 35 percent of persons responded “Not legal” to

the question: “Do you think homosexual relations between consenting adults

should or should not be legal?”

Now, 35 percent of the adult population would be 75.3 million. George W.

Bush and Al Gore got about 50 million votes each in the 2000 election.

Thus, the number of people who think homosexual acts should be *criminal* –

I’m not just talking about Derb-style tolerant disapproval here — is almost

certainly larger than the number of votes either candidate can hope to win

on November 2nd!

Of course, that hypothetical 75.3 million are not going to decide who to

vote for based on the candidates’ positions on homosexuality. At any rate,

very few of them are. The Gallup guy came along and asked them a question,

so they gave him an answer; but I doubt this is something they think about

much. Most of them will have other big issues in mind: the war, the

economy, and so on.

Still, some small proportion of that hypothetical 75.3 million don’t have a

big issue in mind, don’t have much of a clue who to vote for, and can

presumably be influenced on a minor issue like this. “What? Cheney’s

daughter’s a lesbian? Hmph! — I though the Bush people were traditional

values types…” A small proportion is worth a soundbite and some media

grumbling. One percent of 75.3 million is 753,000 — way more than the

popular-vote margin in 2000.

Some voter segments are just too big to ignore. A politician has to cast

his line where the fish are. Kerry has most of the homosexual vote; if he

can peel off a few of those tens of millions of un-compassionate

conservative votes as well, without alienating the homosexuals too much, he

has done a clever thing.

The way the poll numbers are moving, it looks as though this didn’t work.

From Kerry’s (or rather, I suppose, his advisers’) point of view, though, it

seems to me it was worth a try, from a calculating perspective.