How Will Gay Marriage Play on the Ground?

Obama_Gay_Marriage_120510_01.jpg
Associated Press + More

"I was already an Obama supporter, but then that just kind of sealed the deal. We want the equality. We always want to fight for the gay rights. ... And now we have the president behind our backs."

Alyssa Price, 20, a bisexual woman studying neuroscience and psychology, had a slightly different take. She called Obama's comments "reaffirming," ''sweet," ''touchy-feely," even said she hopes it does turn out more gay voters, especially Log Cabin Republicans. "I think that would be cool." But she was already an Obama supporter and felt no more or less motivated to work on his behalf.

Even Michael Flannagan, a gay student who is the Obama campaign's campus leader at Ohio State, cautioned that students, no matter their sexual orientation, are hardly single-issue voters. "We care about our jobs and our future. We care about the world that's going to be left to us when we take over."

___

The northern Rust Belt region that includes the Mahoning Valley is as blue as blue can get on the Ohio electoral map. Mahoning County, with Youngstown as the county seat, went almost 63 percent for Obama in 2008. To win Ohio again, Obama needs this slice of the state to turn out strong as much as Romney needs the south. Yet the president's comments left some of the Valley's Democratic faithful wondering if he'd lose the blue-collar voters who comprise the base here.

"It's the kind of town that votes Democrat but probably is not in support of gay marriage," says Matt Bins-Castronovo, 38, a workers'compensation lawyer who was born and still lives in Youngstown. He completely agrees with the president's position but was annoyed by the timing, calling it "a silly thing to do at this point."

"I guess I'm looking at it through my isolated Youngstown, Ohio, shell. ... Who am I to judge how people will vote and why, what they deem to be more important than other things? But I do think it'll hurt him somewhat. Maybe not enough to lose, but I don't know."

Down the road in Lordstown, Glenn Johnson is president-elect of United Auto Workers Local 1112, representing employees at the General Motors plant that proudly advertises itself nowadays as "Home of the Cruze." Gay marriage, he said, simply can't trump what matters most to his members: Being able to provide for their families.

The union credits the Obama administration's bailout of the auto industry for revitalizing the Lordstown plant. Workers once laid off were rehired after the plant in 2010 began manufacturing the Chevy Cruze, and today some 4,500 people are employed there.

"If you are what I consider the three Gs — gays, God or guns — this may change your opinion of President Obama," Johnson said. "But if you look at the big picture of what he's done for our industry and for working families of this valley .... then you will do the right thing. The majority of our members are more concerned that they have a job."

The Obama campaign office in downtown Youngstown is papered with signs reflecting that sentiment: "This Valley Runs on Obama Power" and "Autoworkers Can't Trust Romney."

Just north of Youngstown, in one of the few swing counties in northeastern Ohio, a group of friends convened at week's end at a wine bar in a place called Painesville in Lake County.

At one table were four Republicans, at another four Democrats. All had plenty to say about the gay marriage debate, a subject on which they — perhaps surprisingly — found more unity than dissent. These friends, all in their late 60s or 70s, wholeheartedly agreed that gay couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples.

For them, the issue itself wasn't the issue.

Did it recharge some of the Democrats? Margie DeLong, the retired nurse who plans to now campaign harder for Obama, was part of this group. The answer for her was a clear yes. But also for Candace Forest, a Painesville native who lives now in San Francisco and promised: "I will engage more."

The Republicans were instead dismayed by what they considered a political ploy and worried it would move the conversation away from more pressing concerns.