WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Since U.S. President Barack Obama’s declaration of support for same-sex marriage this week, messages, emails and calls have poured in to Dana Perlman, a major fundraiser for Obama’s re-election campaign.
“Everybody wants to do something,” said Perlman, a Los Angeles lawyer who is also a top Democratic Party liaison with the gay community.
He is already looking at bigger venues for a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender fundraiser for Obama in June that was originally planned for 700 people.
While it is too early to say how much extra cash is being raised, Obama’s explicit support of the right for same-sex couples to marry is giving a boost to his campaign’s coffers.
But, by the same token, the gay marriage debate is so polarizing for many Americans that it fires up opponents who will now work harder to help Mitt Romney, the likely Republican candidate in November.
“People are calling and asking what more they can do... What’s happened is that President Obama made this one of the major issues of the campaign,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage and spent $1.2 million in North Carolina to help pass a legal ban on same-sex marriage earlier this week.
“This is an issue that goes to the core of who people are. It’s emotion-filled but ultimately moves people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, whether it’s join the campaign or donate,” Brown said.
Riding the coattails of the North Carolina vote and Obama’s announcement, Brown’s group started a three-day “money bomb” campaign and raised $20,000 in less than a day, a high number for them. The group had planned to spend up to $5 million on federal races, mostly for Congress, this year but is now considering increasing that amount.
The gay community is already a big contributor to Obama’s campaign, which is so far outpacing Romney in fundraising, with some $104.1 million still left at the end of March compared with Romney’s $10.1 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.
The gay marriage fight is unlikely to change the balance much, said Paul Gray, a major donor to the Obama campaign based in Chicago.
“As far as fundraising is concerned, yes, there will be an impact, probably a net zero however, since it will be used on both sides as a galvanizing issue,” he said.
Slightly behind Obama in many polls, Romney may win over conservative Republicans with his position that marriage should be strictly between a man and a woman.
“What this is going to do is have the social conservatives that people say are still questioning Mitt Romney’s credentials talk about ‘We cannot let Obama win. We have to elect Mitt Romney,'” Brown said. “That’s a pretty big shift.”
Despite the resurgence of culture wars, the 2012 campaign is still likely to be decided on which candidate has the most convincing plan for the slow economy.
American Crossroads, one of the most influential outside groups that hopes to rally conservatives against Obama, is cautious about jumping too deeply into the gay marriage debate.
“American Crossroads is far more engaged on economic issues, and it appears those pocketbook issues will be the driving force in the 2012 elections,” said Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for the group that expects to funnel some $200 million toward defeating Obama in November.
Barry Goodman, a Michigan lawyer who alongside his law firm partner has raised at least $500,000 for Obama’s re-election campaign, agreed that the issue of whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry is likely to prove less impactful than the concerns about the economy and jobs but added:
“Today (Obama) has same people behind him, but they haven’t necessarily been excited about the campaign and they now have been energized.”
Reporting by Alina Selyukh in Washington and Eric Johnson in Chicago; additional reporting by Sam Youngman, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Editing by Lisa Shumaker