ENLARGE Above and to the left: Carl DeMaio campaign ad shows him as an openly gay Republican.
SAN DIEGO — Congressional candidate Carl DeMaio continues to push the envelope within a Republican Party divided over gay rights and marriage equality, and today his campaign debuts a slick new ad that includes a controversial shot of him holding hands with his partner as they march in the San Diego Gay Pride Parade in 2012.
That is followed by a brief clip of DeMaio and a bipartisan group of LGBT officials waving the rainbow flag at the dedication ceremony for the Pride flag pole at the intersection of University Avenue and Normal Street in Hillcrest. The flag-pole site has become a landmark for San Diego’s sizable LGBT community and the gathering place for rallies, celebrations and protests.
The new ad is part of the branding of DeMaio as a “new generation Republican,” and it reinforces throughout the commercial that he is “different” from the GOP of your father’s generation. The “different” message carries numerous connotations.
DeMaio and his partner, Johnathan Hale, publisher of Hale Media and president of the Hillcrest Business Association, are active members of the LGBT community and have never hidden the fact that they are a couple.
This year, DeMaio is one of three openly gay Republicans who are running for Congress — along with Dan Innis in New Hampshire and Richard Tisei in Massachusetts — and all could make history if elected from their blue states.
Several GOP campaign officials and Elizabeth Wilner, who tracks campaign ads for the nonpartisan firm Kantar Media, said it was the first time they knew of a candidate of either party airing an ad featuring a same-sex partner.
The implications are deep for a Republican Party whose platform defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman at a time when same-sex marriage is becoming more broadly accepted.
“This is who I am,” Mr. DeMaio said in an interview. “It’s something that’s important to me. I want to embrace equality, and feel like the party should, too.”
The WSJ article unleashed a wave of media coverage late Wednesday, including on CNN.
DeMaio is hoping to unseat freshman congressman Scott Peters, a Democrat who eeked out a win in California’s 52nd district that trends toward Republicans. For its part, GOP national leadership is backing DeMaio and see Peters as vulnerable. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) have already contributed to DeMaio’s campaign.
But DeMaio is getting blowback from the Religious Right and anti-gay groups that are affiliated with the Republican Party. Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay hate group the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), has been fundraising for a right-wing candidate who has declared for the race.
Brown condemned DeMaio for being “too liberal” in a fundraising email sent via NOM. Brown bashed DeMaio for being in favor of same-gender marriage and a woman’s choice. The hate group leader also attacked DeMaio for being gay and for being a “trophy candidate” for the Republican leadership, who are eager to get out the message that the party is evolving on the issues.
DeMaio told WSJ that by highlighting his sexuality in the new ad, he hoped his openness would allow him to focus on issues, such as paring the national debt and ending government programs that he believes are wasteful.
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As a matter of full disclosure, SDGLN Publisher Johnathan Hale has a personal relationship with Carl DeMaio.
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Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at [email protected], @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.