Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney made enemies of at least one prominent anti-gay conservative this week over his selection of openly gay Richard Grenell as a campaign spokesman.
By doing so, the Romney campaign made a subtle admission: It's not overly worried about far-right fringe voters. At this point in the election, Romney et al are firmly courting the center.
Grenell, a dedicated Republican who has worked with former UN ambassador (and conservative warrior) John Bolton, fought and lost a battle for legal recognition of his same-sex partner. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association -- a talk radio host popular among the religious right -- was crystal clear in his disappointment with Grenell's hire this weekend.
"Romney picks out & loud gay as a spokesman," Fischer tweeted. "If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead."
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There may be some truth in that. Of course, Romney doesn't want any voters -- certainly no Republicans, that is -- to drop dead. But it's also true that, regardless of what he says or whom he hires, polls show Romney carrying the right-wing, even a majority of those who have been crying fowl for months over his allegedly moderate credentials.
The Santorum and Gingrich voters held out for a while; but following Santorum's campaign suspension, the numbers bounced back well into Romney's favor. A Gallup poll from last week found Romney holding 90 percent of Republican voters, with President Barack Obama holding 90 percent of Democrat ones.
The election, these numbers say, belongs to the center. Hence the courting of independent minds and the relaxing of far-right dog whistles.
For many conservatives, the most important issue at stake in November is defeating Obama. With no real remaining competition, Romney could probably claim these voters even if he came out himself.
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