Red meat (gay marriage) for the Republican base

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It's a predictable political move: You're low in the polls and worried that your own loyal voters might stay home. Time to throw some red meat to the party base. This week, it's gay marriage.

Even by Washington political standards, the pander is blatant. The president makes a statement reaffirming his support for a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and it's no secret why. To keep control of Congress this fall, Republicans need cultural conservatives to get out and vote–and this constitutional amendment is something they clearly want. Never mind that it doesn't have anywhere close to the 67 votes needed to pass the Senate. That's not the point. The real point is that conservatives have grown increasingly disaffected with this administration–upset about spending, immigration, and the president's focus on domestic issues like Social Security reform instead of values-oriented issues. Hence, the gay marriage debate.

Doug Bailey, a former Republican political consultant who is now involved with a group called "unity '08"–which is promoting a bipartisan 2008 ticket–says the whole thing is "just absurd...why would you play political games with it (gay marriage) when you know you don't have the votes?" he asks. "And there are issues like energy independence, like the soaring national debt, like global climate change on which they do nothing."

Precisely. In a recent CBS News poll, less than 1 percent of people rated gay marriage as a key issue. A clear majority of the public already opposes it; the only disagreement is about whether the Constitution should ban it. It's a debate most Republicans want. "They have a checklist of things they have to do to keep the conservative wing of their party on the reservation," says Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. So forget the issues that divide Republicans–like immigration reform. Topic A is now a constiutional ban on gay marriage. Until the next burning issue–of flags–gets center stage. I'm not kidding.