President Barack Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage carries a political cost, but it also means floods of cash from wealthy gay donors and disillusioned young people eager to be inspired by him again.
After three years of political compromise on issues from health care reform to spending cuts, Obama delivered a surprise gift to what many of his core supporters view as the civil rights issue of the day, simply by saying what everyone assumed he believed. But the distinction between implying a change and saying it outright will more than symbolic in the crucial area of campaign fundraising. Already, gay donors, mostly men, reportedly constitute 1 in 6 of Obama’s top fundraisers known as bundlers. And in the first 90 minutes after the news broke Wednesday, the campaign received $1 million in spontaneous contributions, a Democrat told BuzzFeed.
“This is beyond unifying — it’s electrifying,” said Eugene Sepulveda, a former top bundler who withdrew to take a non-political job early this year. “This man stands for right, despite the political consequences.”
And for a class of disillusioned progressive mega-donors, many of them gay, the completion of Obama’s “evolution” is an invitation reason to return.
“I think the people who were disappointed by the president’s failure to support marriage quality will now have that barrier removed for them,” said Jeff Soref, a longtime Democratic activist in the gay community.
Indeed, top gay donors have been using their expensive access to bend Obama’s ear on the issue for years. Some now feel that their specific pleas have been answered.
“There have been a lot of us urging him to do this for a very long time. I imagine he and Michele felt some pain for us after North Carolina yesterday,” said another longtime gay Obama bundler.
“There are more LGBT co-chairs across the country are raising more money than we’ve ever raised. And you’ll see a lot more of that now,” the bundler said.
Soref said that aside from energizing supporters, Obama’s decision sharpens the choice for the general election.
“There is a contrast between the President and Mitt Romney, and this clarified the contrast, and that will help with fundraising,” he said.
The Obama campaign sees the announcement and the contrast with Romney’s position, as playing into the campaign’s narrative of Obama as the forward-looking candidate and Romney as the one of the past.
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt attacked Romney for failing to say he supports ensuring hospital visitation rights for gay and lesbian couples at the federal level — a law the president signed into law.
And aside from gay supporters, Obama’s announcement will excite younger voters, a generation for whom gay rights are an emotionally powerful issue. The surge of $1 million came without an explicit request for cash, but the campaign will likely continue to capitalize on the issue.
In Chicago the excitement was palpable, with Obama’s army twenty-somethings “cheering loudly” as Obama’s words echoed on televisions around campaign headquarters. One staffer asked to describe the mood at headquarters responded with the emoticon “☺.”
"There was a lot of excitement four years ago among young people for him and I think those young people going online and giving $25, there'll be more of those," said Steve Elmendorf, a gay Democratic lobbyist and a former advisor to Dick Gephardt.
"I think it will help him, I think it will generate enthusiasm among the base and progressives,” longtime gay rights activist David Mixner told BuzzFeed.
But like other gay leader celebrating Tuesday, he was reluctant to put it in terms of dollars and cents, at least not yet.
“[It’s] sort of like when Kennedy sent troops to the University of Mississippi, would you ask whether it helped him with fundraising," he added.
With reporting by Rosie Gray and Ben Smith.