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What New York’s Senate Primary Results Actually Mean For Pro-Equality Politicians

September 28, 2012 5:32 pm ET by Carlos Maza

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is celebrating the announcement today that pro-equality New York State Sen. Roy McDonald (R-SD 43) won’t be running as a third-party candidate in November. McDonald – who was one of four Republican state senators who voted for the state’s marriage equality bill last summer – was defeated in his primary by NOM-endorsed challenger Kathleen Marchione, who campaigned heavily against his support for same-sex marriage. According to NOM, his defeat is further evidence of the theory that “a vote for gay marriage is a career ender.”

However, a closer look at the New York primary results reveals a major flaw in that conclusion, as NOM actually suffered more defeats than victories. 

NOM endorsed six candidates in New York’s state senate primary. Out of these six, two ended up winning their races, and only one of those races revolved around the issue of same-sex marriage. NOM also claimed credit for forcing two additional pro-equality state senators to resign before the election:

  • Sen. Mark Grisanti. Although NOM worked aggressively to defeat Grisanti in the primary, the pro-equality Republican won his district with roughly 60 percent of the vote.
  • Sen. Stephen Saland. Saland – who provided the critical 32nd vote to pass New York’s marriage equality law – was declared the winner of his close primary despite being targeted by NOM.
  • Sen. Gustavo Rivera. Freshman state Sen. Gustavo Rivera handily defeated NOM-endorsed challenger Manny Tavarez, who campaigned against Rivera’s support for marriage equality.
  • Mark Amodeo. In the race to determine who would challenge Republican Sen. Grisanti in November, Democrat Mark Amodeo defeated NOM-endorsed candidate Charles Swanick by a wide margin.
  • Sen. Roy McDonald. McDonald’s defeat proved to be NOM’s only real “victory” in New York’s Senate primary. After losing a close race to NOM-endorsed challenger Kathleen Marchione, McDonald decided to drop out rather than run as a third-party candidate. A poll taken earlier this week showed that McDonald could have won his seat in a three-way race.
  • Sen. Shirley Huntley. Although NOM claims that Huntley lost to challenger James Sanders as a result of her vote for same-sex marriage, it likely has more to do with the fact that she was indicted on felony corruption charges just weeks before the election. Gay marriage wasn’t a central part of Sanders’ campaign, which instead emphasized “clean government.”
  • Sen. Carl Kruger. NOM also claims responsibility for ending Sen. Carl Kruger’s career over his vote for marriage equality, failing to mention that Kruger resigned in anticipation of being convicted  on federal corruption charges. He’s currently serving seven years in prison.
  • Sen. James Alesi. Alesi is the last of the four “turncoat” Republican senators NOM targeted for supporting marriage equality. NOM claimed credit for his decision to retire this year, but reports indicate that his retirement might have more to do with a “bogus lawsuit” he filed against constituents several years ago than with his support for same-sex marriage.

Of the six races NOM was involved in, only one can reasonably be considered a “victory” for NOM. That’s a pretty pitiful record for any organization, but several factors make it especially embarrassing for NOM:

1. Low Turnout – The New York Senate primary was held on a Thursday to avoid overlapping with the anniversary of September 11, resulting in unusually low voter turnout. That environment typically benefits special interest groups, such as NOM, whose motivated supporters become more influential in a smaller pool of voters.

2. NOM’s Efforts – Since the marriage equality law was passed last summer, NOM has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars running Internet ads, putting up billboardsdistributing mailers, organizing rallies, and funding primary challengers  a widespread effort to replace those who voted for the bill. Despite the group’s massive spending and vocal campaigning, NOM’s success rate in the primary was still well under 50 percent.

3. NOM’s Goals – NOM’s ultimate goal isn’t just to punish pro-equality Republicans. The group claims that it’s plan is to win enough congressional seats over the next four years to repeal New York’s marriage equality law. Though NOM may have scored a victory against McDonald, it’s nowhere near making enough headway to seriously challenge gay marriage rights in New York.

NOM will likely continue spinning this month’s primary as evidence of its ability to punish politicians – especially Republicans -- who voted for marriage equality. It’s a talking point the organization relied on in the months leading up to New York’s vote last summer, and the group likely intends to carry that message to other state legislatures in the coming months.

The facts, however, tell a different story. If NOM has endorsed your opponent in a state primary – Republican or Democrat – chances are you’re going to win.

Previously:

Memo To NY Republicans: Don’t Be Scared Of Supporting Marriage Equality