By Claire Trageser  Monday, February 24, 2014

Congressional candidate Carl DeMaio made national headlines recently with a new campaign ad. The ad shows Republican former City Councilman DeMaio and his partner Johnathan Hale walking hand-in-hand during a gay pride parade, while a voiceover says DeMaio "believes in equality and diversity and is a defender of our personal freedoms."

The Wall Street Journal reported this is the first time any Congressional candidate of either party has featured a same-sex partner in an ad. Although the commercial is not yet being shown on TV, its mark on history added early interest to a race that is expected to draw national focus and funding anyway as freshman Congressman Scott Peters, a Democrat, fends off the challenge from DeMaio to represent the 52nd Congressional District.

But some members of San Diego's gay community have not received the ad warmly.

Congressional candidate Carl DeMaio made national headlines with a recent commercial. But some members of San Diego's LGBT community are not embracing the ad.

LGBT activist Will Rodriguez-Kennedy is a Republican-turned-Democrat and former president of the local chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, a Republican gay rights advocacy group (he resigned after making a purchasing mistake with the group's debit card). Rodriguez-Kennedy views the ad as political opportunism and said DeMaio does not have a track record of advocating for gay rights.

"His personal community was fighting a major civil rights issue, and he was quiet," Rodriguez-Kennedy said. "That speaks to a person's integrity, it speaks to a person's political courage, and it's something that should be at issue in a political campaign, especially when we have Washington politicians who typically lack political courage."

DeMaio was not yet a member of the City Council when it voted on endorsements of same-sex marriage in 2007 and 2008, but did vote for a council call to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, as well as a resolution to require city contractors to offer benefits to same-sex partners. He also helped install a rainbow flag in Hillcrest. Still, he's had a troubled past with San Diego's gay community.

During the 2011-2012 mayoral race, the San Diego Log Cabin Republicans did not endorse DeMaio or another gay Republican candidate, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

Then DeMaio was booed and hissed at during a mayoral debate at The San Diego LGBT Community Center. Opponent Nathan Fletcher said DeMaio had attacked him for supporting gay rights to win favor with Republicans.

"Let me make something perfectly clear," DeMaio responded. "I have never criticized any of my opponents for…."

The crowd cut in, shouting "Liar! Liar!" until the moderator, KPBS reporter Tom Fudge, quieted them.

"I have not criticized any of our candidates for their positions on social issues, nor will I, because I do not believe the roll of the mayor is to advance a social issue agenda," DeMaio continued. The crowd erupted again in boos, hisses and more calls of "Liar!"

A few months later, DeMaio was booed again as he walked in the gay pride parade. Some parade goers said they were protesting DeMaio because his mayoral campaign took donations from hotelier Doug Manchester, who was also a strong supporter of banning same-sex marriages.
Most recently, Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, who is also gay and is seen raising the Hillcrest rainbow flag with DeMaio in the ad, said in a statement that he supports DeMaio's opponent Peters.
DeMaio would not give an interview for this story, but in 2012, he told KPBS he had no problem taking money from Manchester.
"I think obviously I have strongly held personal views," he said. "The issues that are important to me as Carl, an individual, private citizen. But my role as mayor is quite different."
Susan Jester, the president of San Diego Log Cabin Republicans, said she's proud DeMaio got donations from Manchester.
"We should be applauding that, we should be congratulating Carl that such a person, such a powerful man, is willing to put his money behind Carl," she said.
Jester said DeMaio shouldn't have to campaign on gay rights, any more than a straight person should have to campaign on being straight.
"The thing that's different about Carl in terms of the LGBT community is he's not a gay activist, he never was a gay activist," she said. "He was a businessman who happened to be gay who ran for office and got in on his merits and his experience. The gay part sort of came along with it."
Susan Jester is the president of the San Diego chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, a Republican gay rights advocacy group.
But Rodriguez-Kennedy sees it differently.
"He refers to LGBT equality not as a civil rights issue, but as a social issue, which is a fundamental difference in how you frame an issue," he said.
"There's a quote that I use that says the hottest places in hell are reserved for people who in times of great moral crisis maintained their neutrality," he added.
Rodriguez-Kennedy said he doesn't think there's anything DeMaio could do to win back members of the gay community he's lost.
"Whatever he did would be seen as politically expedient right now," he said. "What really counts is what you did while you're in office."
But Mesa College politics professor Carl Luna said DeMaio's commercial is still likely a smart move. While DeMaio will still focus his campaign on fiscal discipline and reforming Congress, his stance on social issues will also be more important now that he's running for national office, Luna said. The commercial shows DeMaio realizes that.
"What Carl DeMaio is trying to do is even before people are really focusing on the election, to rebrand himself and the Republican Party in that district," Luna said. "This is the new Republican Party, it's not last year's close-minded party of no, without alienating enough of his base in the primary to win."
DeMaio told The Wall Street Journal he wanted to include his partner Hale in a mayoral campaign ad, but consultants advised against it, fearing it would alienate conservatives. DeMaio said those same consultants are not working on his Congressional campaign.
At a recent Log Cabin Republicans meeting, DeMaio told the group someone had emailed him to say the commercial is "throwing this in our face."
"My response was, boy, this is quite interesting, have you never seen a straight candidate's ads before?" DeMaio said. "You take a look at every candidate and they have pictures of their wife, their husband, their daughter, their son, their grandkids, their puppy, their goldfish.
"I mean, get real, this is just campaigning."
The National Organization for Marriage, a political group that fights against same-sex marriage,wrote a letter to "marriage supporters" last week denouncing DeMaio and his ad and encouraging people to vote for Kirk Jorgensen, the other Republican candidate running for the same seat.
"Carl DeMaio claims to be 'one of us' but his vision of America is very different from ours," the letter said. "He comes from an environment where sexual morality is a thing of the past, where children are indoctrinated into questioning their own sexuality, where gender is considered fluid but sexual orientation is fixed, and where a candidate who supports abortion, gay 'marriage,' gun control and medical marijuana can call himself a conservative — and a 'reformer.'"
Jester said voters who don't like seeing DeMaio and his partner in a commercial would likely not vote for DeMaio anyway.
"If you alienate 10 percent but win 40 percent, or 30 percent, you're coming out ahead," she said.
The filing deadline for the 52nd Congressional District election is March 7. The district represents Coronado, Poway and San Diego neighborhoods like Carmel Valley, La Jolla and Point Loma.
DeMaio, Jorgensen and Peters are the only declared candidates so far. The top two vote-getters in the June 3 primary will advance to the November election.