WASHINGTON—Family Research Council President Tony Perkins told me during his group’s recently completed Values Voter Summit that the Democratic Party’s aggressive promotion of liberal positions on social issues during its convention in Charlotte could give Republicans a chance to pick up votes from disenfranchised moderate and conservative Democrats.
Perkins said he had spoken to convention delegates who found the party’s stances on social issues to be extreme. “They were even surprised how blatant it was on parade at the Democratic convention,” he said. “I think everybody was shocked it was so prominent.”
Perkins called the Democrats’ center stage touting in Charlotte of their agenda to redefine marriage and protect abortion “over the top.”
He is not the only social conservative trying to remind voters of the Democratic Party’s move farther leftward. Americans United for Life Action President Charmaine Yoest wrote a letter last week calling the Democratic convention the “most pro-abortion conference in a generation.”
“Watching President Obama’s pro-abortion convention, I actually felt like I was viewing Planned Parenthood’s national conference,” Yoest wrote.
Leaders of pro-abortion groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood spoke on the convention’s main stage. Pro-life Democrats, a group the party promoted at past conventions, were noticeably absent from the stage and had to hold a single, off-site event.
Speakers also included three gay members of Congress, and a record 486 delegates, more than 8 percent of the convention total, identified themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
The convention’s prime-time roster of speakers also didn’t shy away from the social topics.
“We believe that freedom means keeping government out of our most private affairs, including out of a woman’s decision whether to keep an unwanted pregnancy and everybody’s decision about whom to marry,” said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
In her convention speech, first lady Michelle Obama said Americans ought to “boldly stand at the altar with who they love,” and that President Obama “believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our healthcare.”
Clearly Perkins and Yoest hope to capitalize on the Democrat’s open embrace of their social positions to both energize conservative voters who have been slow in warming up to Mitt Romney and to reach disaffected Democrats and independents.
The tactic may work in getting conservatives to not only vote for Romney but also campaign for him. But, while walking the hallways of the Charlotte arena during the convention’s last day, I could not find any conservative Democrats who seemed concerned by the party’s tactics. Speaking to as many attendees as I could in the hours leading up to President Obama’s speech, I could not find one person who had taken pause. Granted, I was talking to energized fans attending a pep rally for their home team. But this snapshot of Democrats—young and old and from all regions of the country—provides insight into the mindset of the 21st century Democrat.
Joseph Mazzara, a 73-year-old delegate from Welches, Ore., who is Catholic, said the Democratic Party “grew up” as a party with the nomination of a black man for president four years ago and that being more up front about same-sex “marriage” during this election is “another step in the party’s maturation.” Both milestones, Mazzara said, make him proud: “We have to be more vocal. They represent a lot of votes.”
Ana Canaales, 59, a delegate from New Mexico’s Bernalillo County, said she is not worried that the party’s overt push of social issues will distract from the major issue of jobs.
“The economy is what everybody worries about,” she said. “But I think the Democratic Party is a party of inclusion. I think we have to focus on social issues.”
Adam Wood, 35, a delegate from Bridgeport, Conn., said he noticed the change in the presentation of social issues in this convention compared to previous ones.
“Literally, it was on the stage this time,” he said, referring to the numerous speeches by openly homosexual men and women, including three gay members of the U.S. House. “Society’s perceptions have changed over the last decade and putting it on stage here helps make it more mainstream.”
Wood does not think the party’s unprecedented embrace of gay issues will cost the party votes this November.
“Voters know our position, and people who disagree have already gone to the other side,” he said. “We are not embarrassed about it. You don’t need 70 percent to win an election anyway … only 50 percent.”
Despite being from a more conservative state in the South, Jessica DeLoach, president of the Young Democrats of Arkansas, does not believe that the Democrats’ aggressive promotion of a same-sex lifestyle and abortion will scare away Arkansas’ social conservatives.
“There are going to be people in Arkansas who do not favor gay marriage,” she said, “but there are more people who are coming around.”
DeLoach, who lives in Little Rock, said that most young voters in the state, many of them looking for jobs and saddled with college debt, stress to her that the economy is the primary issue.
“But you can focus on more than one issue at a time,” she said, arguing in favor of the party’s spotlighting of gay “marriage” and abortion. “Representing all people is the right thing to do. This is the face of the new Democrat. We get that you don’t want others to hide who they are. The world is changing and our party is coming along with it.”
The choices made by Democrats during this campaign suggest that their strategists believe this is turning out to be a base election: The party that will be best able to mobilize and energize its base has the best chance of winning. And celebrating same-sex “marriage” and abortion in a more open manner is one way Democrats can do that even if it costs them the support of socially conservative Democrats and independents. The delegates in Charlotte that I spoke to did not seem to mind.