Gay candidate for Congress faces opposition from social conservatives and gay rights community

The Associated Press

This photo taken June 23, 2014 shows California Republican congressional candidate Carl DeMaio speaking at the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill in Washington. DeMaio is one of three openly gay Republicans running for Congress this year, but he’s the only one who has managed to make political adversaries of both social conservative and gay rights organizations. He’s too open about his sexual orientation for some social conservatives, but too far to the right and too quiet on social issues to win over the gay rights groups. And that’s just fine for DeMaio, who stresses fiscal conservatism to try to attract voters in California’s 52nd Congressional District. DeMaio gives the GOP one of its best chances for winning a Democratic-controlled seat. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Carl DeMaio is one of three openly gay Republicans running for Congress this year, but he's the only one who has managed to make political adversaries of both social conservative and gay rights organizations.

He's too open about his sexual orientation for some social conservatives, but too far to the right and too quiet on social issues to win over the gay rights groups.

And that's just fine with DeMaio, who stresses fiscal conservatism as he tries to attract voters in the San Diego-area district.

"It means you're right in the middle where the American people are," he said in a recent interview.

Running in a district almost evenly divided among Democrats, Republicans and independents, DeMaio gives the GOP one of its best chances for winning a Democratic-controlled seat.

But the gay rights community leans heavily Democratic, and the Human Rights Campaign endorsed the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Scott Peters. Meanwhile, the socially conservative Family Research Council and others weighed in during the primary with mailers, robocalls and radio ads to boost the prospects of another Republican. The conservative groups are expected to stand down for the general election, but haven't made a firm commitment.

Across the country, the two other gay Republicans, Dan Innis of New Hampshire and Richard Tisei of Massachusetts, have so far avoided being targeted by social conservatives as they prepare for September primaries. Innis faces former Republican Rep. Frank Guinta. Tisei is unopposed. Both were endorsed by the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which called them "pragmatic and visionary leaders" whose election would "shatter a glass ceiling for the Republican Party."

The organization said DeMaio never sought its endorsement.

DeMaio said the story is more complicated, dating back to 2012 when the group declined to endorse him when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of San Diego. He said they also gave insider campaign information to his opponent.

Steven Thai, a spokesman for the Victory Fund, rejected DeMaio's claim about leaked campaign information and said DeMaio simply didn't qualify for an endorsement.

The back-and-forth underscores the bitterness that exists between DeMaio and some in the gay community.

"I'm not going to let their partisan politics deter me from what I see as the important role I can play, which is to be present in the Republican Party, to go to hard-to-win audiences, the social conservatives, and stand and say, 'I am openly gay, I am proud. And it shouldn't matter who I love. Let's talk about the issues that united us, not divide us,'" DeMaio said.

DeMaio generally avoids discussing his sexual orientation or other social issues, but he seems to have taken some lessons from his mayoral campaign when he was criticized for being too dismissive of their importance. An early campaign ad this year featured DeMaio and his partner in a local LGBT pride parade.

The advertisement caught the National Organization for Marriage's attention, which called DeMaio a "determined activist who will rip traditional values from the Republican Party."

The last openly gay Republican to serve in Congress, Jim Kolbe of Arizona, said much has changed since he came out in 1996. He believes most Republicans don't have a problem with an elected official being gay. Yet he said he understands why DeMaio prefers to focus on taxes, jobs and other pocketbook issues.

A candidate's sexual orientation "is pretty much a peripheral issue for most people," Kolbe said.

DeMaio built his reputation with his work as a member of the San Diego City Council on pensions and other fiscal issues. He finished second in the primary and will face Peters in the fall. FEC records show social conservative groups spent about $156,000 to support another Republican.