Politico stumbles upon a theory pioneered by Greg Sargent: The culture wars are back, baby, and Democrats are winning them. Sargent suggested that a minimum wage hike, gun restrictions, and gay marriage formed a “progressive triumvirate” of winning issues. Politico scraps the minimum wage and adds immigration reform, which is the only issue that’s truly problematic inside the GOP coalition right now. Post-Tea Party, there’s no Republican enthusiasm for a minimum wage hike. Only a small number of very well-hyped Republicans have come out for gun restrictions, people like Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Scott Rigell.
And we haven’t had a real internal test of how gay marriage plays within the party. Its most prominent endorsers are out of office (Dick Cheney) or years away from re-election (Rob Portman). But the pressure it puts on Republicans in general elections hasn’t been tested yet. The DOMA case, more than the Prop 8 case, will decide that. For 17 years, when politicians of either party were asked whether they would amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage, they’d point to DOMA—the law that allowed some states to ignore gay marriages from other states. Get rid of DOMA, and you resurrect the amendment question, which works perfectly well in deep red territory and wouldn’t work at all in blue states.
Case in point: New Jersey. In the new Quinnipiac poll, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leads probable Democratic opponent Barbara Buono by 35 points, 60-25. (This is actually down from Christie’s 41-point heroic post-Sandy poll lead.) Downballot Republicans, who haven’t controlled any branch of the state legislature since the 1990s, are in a virtual tie with Democrats.
But legal gay marriage polls about as well as Christie does! Voters now favor it by a 64-30 margin, up from a 53-42 margin one year ago. What was happening a year ago? New Jersey Democrats had given Christie a gay marriage bill, and he’d vetoed it. Gay marriage is way down the issue priority list in the state (1 percent of people say it’s the key factor in their votes) but it’s a wedge issue that Christie chose the wrong side of.