London extinguished its Olympic flame Sunday night. However, the real firefight has yet to begin. Now our attention turns toward the blockbuster of Team Obama vs. Team Romney.
Buoyed by their wealthiest donors, the ticker tape parade of millions upon millions of campaign dollars shows no signs of stopping. Neither does the lean, mean homophobic machine that is the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). Gay rights activists from four different states (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington) are taking to the pitch in support of marriage equality this November. But, they'll be the first to admit that it's not going to be pretty.
That assessment, in of itself, says a lot about NOM's wringer, Frank Schubert.
"Like everybody else, we all know NOM is pulling the strings," confirmed Jake Loesch, deputy communications director of Minnesotans United for All Families, in a Sunday teleconference - orchestrated by the non-profit Freedom to Marry - that featured the captains of the four states' teams. But, none of these key players could bench their concerns about Schubert, the seemingly unbeatable media strategist pitting neighbor against neighbor for the last four years.
Competing yet again in not one, but in all four states putting same-sex marriage to a vote, NOM might equip its MVP with as much $4-8 million for a win in Minnesota alone, Loesch estimated. In the fight to stop Schubert, the Midwestern state is the only one of the four arenas weighing whether or not to amend their constitution.
Profiled by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Schubert isn't too shy to boast about the total of 30 "pro-marriage" campaigns his consulting agency, Schubert Flint Public Affairs, led to victory. Just last May, Schubert added yet another notch to his belt after he masterminded the passage of North Carolina's Amendment 1, putting a definition of marriage as the union of one man, one woman into its state constitution (right before Pres. Barack Obama unequivocally declared his support for same-sex marriage). However, it's California's Prop. 8 Schubert recounted for the Star-Tribune as not only, "his biggest professional triumph, but also a watershed moment that changed the course of his life."
"It's pretty obvious it's being organized by Frank Schubert in Sacramento," commented Matt McTighe, campaign manager of Mainers United for Marriage, about the opposition. Even though campaign manager Richard Carlbom of Minnesotans United for All Families admits "the worst is yet to come," he described the prevailing mood as "very enthusiastic."
"We've done a better job as a community assembling a coalition of advocates," Carlbom bragged.
Instead of trying to "reinvent the wheel," as Carlbom said, each of these four different groups (Mainers United for Marriage, Marylanders for Marriage Equality, Minnesotans United for All Families and Washington United for Marriage) researched, and drafted, the best messengers capable of swaying "soft" supporters of marriage equality.
So far, it's a message that's debuted upon the doorsteps of Maine's approximately 140,000 marriage fence-sitters, and broadcasted by televisions throughout the Pine Tree State. The Mainers United for Marriage campaign already aired its first TV ad during the Opening Ceremony of these recent Olympic Games. Fewer than 90 days are left for voter outreach, but McTighe hopes his group's "volunteer vacation program," bringing gay rights activists from around the country to New England, can help Mainers United for Marriage edge their ballot question, "An Act to Allow Marriage Licenses for Same-Sex Couples and Protect Religious Freedom," across the finish line.
Agreeing that "the ultimate goal is to support as many conversations as possible," Loesch spun a story of two vastly different counter campaigns playing out in Minnesota - one that's "reactionary and bizarrely off-message," and another that's beginning to rear its ugly head. "Then there's the Frank Schubert's," Loesch said.
The high production quality of the Minnesota Marriage Minute - an online campaign launched by the anti-equality Minnesotans for Marriage that bears Schubert's imprint - attests to Loesch's assessment that they've only just begun to fight. Fashioned after traditional news broadcasts, the Minnesota Marriage Minute clips are 90 sec. in length, and feature a former Minnesota anchorwoman, Kalley Yanta; fear-mongering weekly updates from a dystopian future Minnesota that recognizes "genderless marriage."
Similarly, campaign leaders on the front lines of Maryland and Washington's battles reported rumblings of anti-gay rhetoric targeting minorities - putting NOM and Schubert squarely at its epicenter. In what's perhaps NOM's worst kept secret, the group's internal memos graphically describe the wedge they're hoping to drive between a traditionally-Democratic coalition of voters culturally divided about same-sex marriage. Digital Director Sylvia Rolle of Washington United on Marriage briefly mentioned NOM's efforts preying upon Korean-American evangelical Christians and East Africans recently immigrated to the Seattle metro area.
"We're running thoughtful, aggressive campaigns pushing new boundaries," Rolle countered, arguing that between 2009's domestic partnership Referendum 71 battle, and the fight over Referendum 74 today, "We were much better at finding very powerful stories [than our opponents.]"
Campaign manager Joshua Levin of Marylanders for Marriage Equality fully expected the more highly-polished, professional hit squad to be "coming in late and dropping their bombs" against his state's Civil Marriage Protection Act. Nevertheless, Levin conveyed a confident air about the cultural diversity at the root of his coalition, comprised of Catholics for Equality and the NAACP.
External polling of both Maryland's Catholic and African-American voters, within the last year and a half, showed a noticeably positive shift in momentum. When asked about the Public Policy Polling survey, which saw a double-digit spike in support of same-sex marriage, Levin rationalized the endorsement of it last spring by a certain "fierce advocate" played a significant role swaying African-Americans.
"Some reasonably large portion of the electorate has changed their mind," Levin said.
However, Frank Schubert hasn't.
"I will find out at some point if I am right," Schubert concluded for the Star-Tribune . "If I am met by earthworms, I guess it didn't matter. If I am met by bright angels, I think it will be very nice."
(Soulmates image via Flickr)