Takano, a 51-year-old high school teacher, ran losing races for Congress in 1992 and again in 1994, when he was routed by a GOP rival who sent anti-Takano mailers in shades of pink after Takano's sexual orientation became an issue.
"That became front-page news," Takano said. "Today, it's just an interesting part of my background as opposed to being a sensational story... People look back at what happened 18 years ago and say, 'I can't believe we ever did those things.'"
In Massachusetts, Tisei, a longtime state legislator, is running a vigorous campaign to unseat Democratic Rep. John Tierney. The National Republican Congressional Committee has included Tisei in its "Young Gun" program highlighting promising candidates.
There have been openly gay Republicans in Congress before — but they came out after being elected. Tisei would be the first Republican to enter Congress as an openly gay candidate.
Tisei is at odds with Republican Party orthodoxy on key social issues. He supports the Massachusetts law legalizing same-sex marriage and favors abortion rights. But he depicts himself as a fiscal conservative, and says the GOP's stance on social issues will moderate faster if people like himself work from inside.
"I've been very welcomed and encouraged by the national party leaders," he said in a telephone interview earlier this year. "As for issues of equality, you'll never have true equality until you have advocates on both sides of the aisle."
The other House races involving openly gay candidates:
— In Colorado, Polis is an overwhelmingly favorite to win re-election in the 2nd District that includes his liberal hometown of Boulder. He and his partner are raising a young son, which makes Polis the only gay member of Congress who's a parent.
— In Rhode Island, Cicilline, a former mayor of Providence, is seeking a second term in the House but faces a tough challenge from Republican Brendan Doherty, a former head of the state police. During the Democratic primary campaign, there were brief flare-ups over complaints that supporters of Cicilline's rival, Anthony Gemma, were engaging in anti-gay innuendo.
— In Idaho, Democratic state Sen. Nicole Lefavour — the first openly gay legislator ever in her state — is running against incumbent Republican Mike Simpson in the 2nd District. Of all the openly gay congressional candidates this year, she probably faces the longest odds, given that Simpson won re-election in 2010 with 69 percent of the vote.
In New York, the race between Maloney and Hayworth is distinctive in part because Hayworth has an openly gay son and is one of only three Republicans in the congressional gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender caucus.
Have political dynamics evolved so thoroughly that being openly gay might now be an asset in the race?
"I don't know I'd go that far," Maloney said. "But there is a real power in being yourself. When you're not afraid, when you live your life with honesty and integrity, it makes you a better parent, a better colleague, a better friend and a better candidate."
Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund: http://www.victoryfund.org/home
David Crary can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP
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