President Barack Obama hasn’t talked about waffle fries.
Mitt Romney won’t get into chicken sandwiches.
It’s the culture war no one wants — except the base.
Obama’s reelection prospects are bound up in the hope that he can convince people he actually is digging the country out of a hole, which means keeping the attention on those efforts and how deep the hole was. For Romney, with polls that consistently show him climbing when the focus is on the election but dipping when it goes elsewhere, the political path through November is clear. The president needs people seeing photos of the gay couples gathering at Chick-fil-A franchises for Friday night’s planned “kiss-in” about as much as Romney wants independents hearing the latest social conservative soundbites about the evils of gay marriage.
But in an election in which stoking the base is crucial for both candidates and gay marriage is a flashpoint for activists on both sides, that’s what the candidates are getting anyway.
Obama, already in favor of gay marriage, has little to gain by weighing in against a private company that operates primarily in red states on an issue that has already inflamed social conservatives. He has treaded lightly on the issue on the campaign trail, touting the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy but avoided new calls for legalizing gay marriage since announcing he supported it in May.
Several officials in Obama’s White House and campaign did not respond Friday to requests for comment about Chick-fil-A. And there’s reason for the president to keep the issues away from the center of his reelection campaign. Obama can’t afford to alienate religious conservatives in the black community or give blue-collar Democratic whites in Ohio and Virginia another reason to vote against him.
Romney favors a constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage, but like nearly all traditional culture war issues, it’s a topic he avoids. And he’s no stranger to the chicken franchise: Back in May, in his commencement address to evangelical Liberty University, Romney praised Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy — whose son, Dan, sparked the latest controversy by saying gay marriage invites “God’s judgment.”
But he hasn’t said anything on the topic since. On Friday, speaking to reporters in Las Vegas, Romney said Chick-fil-A is among issues that “are not things that are part of my campaign.”
The candidate on Friday refused to weigh in on former rival Rick Santorum and celebrity Republicans Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee bringing cameras with them as they dined on fast food and wouldn’t repeat his endorsement of the sandwiches. Lumped in with Republican attacks on Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, Romney said, “I’m not going to tell other people what to talk about.”
Capturing the line he’s walking, an adviser explained later that Romney “authentically loves” the fast-food chain but doesn’t need a distraction from his economic message.
Romney falls within the new mainstream Republican critique of Obama’s gay marriage evolution. When the president announced his support for the practice in May, the GOP criticism was muted. House Speaker John Boehner tried to pivot back to the economy while others mocked the president for the election-year change of heart. Romney asserted his opposition to gay marriage and tried to move on.
That’s a mistake, said Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, who argued that Romney has ground to gain not just with the social conservative base from jumping into the fray.
“The vast majority of the American people, even those who might not agree with Dan Cathy’s personal views, think that it was incorrect for Rahm Emanuel and the mayor of Boston to suggest that they wouldn’t be allowed to get a permit in their city,” Reed said, adding, “I think anything for anybody running for office in either party right now would benefit” from a trip to a Chick-fil-A franchise.R Soft Web Hosting