Will John McCain Turn His Back on Gay Americans?

"No, no, no," Mitt Romney supporters cried out at the Conservative Political Action Conference as he announced he was ending his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

A short distance away, a very different reaction could be heard at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the gay Log Cabin Republicans: "We did it!"

Romney had run a hard-right campaign. It was a losing strategy.

Despite Romney's barrage of attacks on Sen. John McCain, primary voters picked the Goldilocks of the GOP presidential field:

In essence, McCain had said: "This side of my party is too soft. That side of my party is too hard. My own spot is just right."

McCain, a fiscally conservative hawk, has voiced support for gay Americans, yet he has a mixed record on gay rights.

Log Cabin hasn't endorsed McCain but actively worked to defeat Romney, who had done a U-turn away from his days as a Senate candidate, when he had boasted he could do more for Massachusetts gays than liberal lion Edward Kennedy.

Log Cabin's high-risk, very public strategy of running TV and radio ads attacking Romney -- even though he had a credible shot at becoming president -- demonstrated the group's trademark chutzpah and integrity.

But now Log Cabin finds itself at another defining moment: Can it persuade soon-to-be-nominee McCain, who will need the support of both conservatives and moderates, to at least remain mildly gay-friendly, a spot where the group likely could endorse him?

Four years ago, Log Cabin refused to endorse President Bush because of his full-throated advocacy of an anti-gay constitutional amendment.

Now, Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon says: "It's good news that Sen. McCain is on track to win the nomination because he believes in a big tent Republican Party. His record is not perfect, but there are definitely positive signs."

Here are highlights:

Pluses: McCain met with Log Cabin in 1999 during his earlier presidential bid and expressed distaste for anti-gay discrimination. He's hired openly gay Senate and campaign staffers.

When U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, a fellow Arizona Republican, came out in 1996, McCain rushed to supportively declare that Kolbe "has the respect and appreciation of most Arizonans."

In response to a push by the gay Human Rights Campaign, McCain adopted a written policy saying he doesn't discriminate against gay employees.

And, in both 2004 and 2006, he voted against and spoke out against amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

During the recent Florida primary, his campaign placed anti-gay "robo" calls against Romney. The plus is that, according to a knowledgeable source, McCain never saw or approved the script, and senior staff stopped them.

Minuses: He opposes gay marriage, campaigned for an unsuccessful amendment to Arizona's constitution in 2006 that would have prevented recognition of coupled relationships other than male-female marriages and has said he'd support amending the U.S Constitution if federal courts order gay marriage.

He voted in 1993 for Don't Ask, Don't Tell and still opposes lifting that ban on gays serving openly in the military. In 1996 votes, he supported denying spousal benefits to married gay couples and opposed outlawing anti-gay job discrimination.

Log Cabin helped to defeat McCain's chief rival. We'll soon see whether the maverick McCain works to create a big tent party that values all its members.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

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