Commentary: Politically Aware

One of the newer data points available to punditocracy is New York Times columnist Nate Silver’s Return on Investment Index. By looking at polls, population and electoral votes (among other things), Silver determines the likelihood that one voter in a given state would decide a razor-thin election, and thus where campaigns might wisely spend their last dollar, or run their last ad, to sway a voter.

Right now, that voter is somewhere in Nevada. Despite being an important swing state, Florida’s size dilutes the power of each voter. Alaska and Hawaii, while smaller, each have such an ideological slant that changing one voter’s mind is unlikely to make a difference. If either were to be close, it would merely be evidence that one candidate is winning in a landslide.

For the first Politically Aware endorsement of 2012, I applied a similar, if less data driven, analysis to local elections. If I could give a candidate my last $20, or time for one shift, where would it have the most positive potential impact on equality? Taking into account current polling, the potential reach of the office and the disparity in LGBT support, the answer is Scott Peters.

California’s redrawn 52nd District, where polls show Peters running neck and neck with current Rep. Brian Bilbray, is the only hotly contested U.S. congressional race in San Diego County. While few candidates have earned LGBT support as much as the gayborhood’s representatives, Congresswomen Susan Davis and Assemblymember Toni Atkins are considered safe, and Councilmember Todd Gloria has already won re-election. While they will put your donation to good use, it’s unlikely to decide the race. The mayoral race has important LGBT implications, but the latest poll showed a 12 point gap.

Adding to the impact of Peters’ race is the fact that the U.S. House will be critical to LGBT legislation in the coming years. Passing pro-equalty bills, like the Employment Non-Discrmination Act (ENDA), will require putting the speaker’s gavel back in the hand of ally Rep. Nancy Pelosi. While that appears unlikely at this point, it is impossible without a Peters victory in the 52nd. Even if the leadership doesn’t change hands, wins in Peters’ and other competitive races might be enough to build a fair-minded majority with the handful of potentially LGBT-supportive Republicans.

To be clear, Bilbray is not a part of that handful, which is perhaps the biggest reason a Peters victory would be high impact for the LGBT community. Bilbray has earned a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) since returning to Congress in 2006, voting against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, against the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He’s not much better to progressive coalition partners, having earned a 10 percent rating from NARAL (formerly known as the National Abortion Rights Action League) in 2011 and claiming to be able to identify undocumented immigrants by their shoes.

Peters endorsed marriage equality while on the San Diego City Council, has the endorsement of the HRC and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and backs the Dream Act. For his support of the LGBT community and its allies, Scott Peters earns Politically Aware’s endorsement in the 52nd District. In a year of important elections, the stakes and polling in his race also make Peters’ campaign the most strategic place to invest the time, talent and treasure you can give to the cause of equality this election cycle.

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