There's a fear in some Democratic circles that LGBT candidates can't win swing seats.
There are many possible reasons for this. Some of it may be attributed to the fact that, until recently, some swing voters (and even a few Democrats) opposed marriage equality.
It may also have to do with a couple of losses by LGBT candidates in state House races a few years back. In 2008, Garnet Lewis lost to Jim Stamas (son of the area's then-state senator) in the Midland-based 98th District seat. Two years later, Toni Sessoms lost to Kevin Cotter in the Mt. Pleasant-based 99th District seat - a seat held by Republicans for as long as anyone can remember.
Yet this year saw the election of two young gay Democrats to the Michigan Legislature - Jeremy Moss and Jon Hoadley. While they ran (and were elected) in solidly Democratic districts, the performance of both Hoadley and Moss should assuage Democrats' fears about the electability of LGBT candidates in less blue districts.
Young + Gay = Success
If there was any merit to concerns about the electorate's views of LGBT candidates, we would've seen evidence of that in the seats where Hoadley and Moss were elected. There was no question that Hoadley and Moss were going to win these blue districts. However, it's in the margins of their victories - particularly compared to other Democratic candidates - that we'd detect any evidence of apprehension toward LGBT candidates. (And make no mistake: both Hoadley and Moss are openly gay, so their orientation isn't exactly a state secret.)
Since down-ticket races* don't get much attention, the number of votes cast for various down-ticket races and candidates will usually be lower than for the top of the ticket (in this case, Schauer and Brown).
Despite that, Hoadley and Moss outperformed a number of "up-ticket" candidates in their districts, including Schauer and Attorney General nominee Mark Totten.
Here are the results for the races for Governor, Attorney General, and State Representative in the 60th House District (the City of Kalamazoo plus most of Kalamazoo Township):
Think about this for a second. Totten has run for office in the area a couple times before; he ran for State Senate in 2010 before being elected to the School Board in 2011. Schauer has been elected many times by voters in neighboring Battle Creek. By contrast, Hoadley is young, gay, and a first-time candidate.
Yet he still got 1,199 more votes than Totten and 912 more votes than Schauer.
Moss racked up even more impressive margins in the 35th District, which includes Southfield, Southfield Township, and Lathrup Village:
That's a 2,224-vote difference between Moss and Schauer and a 2,276-vote difference with Totten.
It should be noted that, unlike Hoadley, Moss ran for office before. He was elected to the Southfield City Council in 2011 (in and of itself, that's impressive for a young, gay candidate, especially given that in his Council run he didn't have the advantage of being listed as a Democrat).
Hoadley and Moss didn't just win their primaries, however. They got majorities. 59% for Hoadley, 51% for Moss.
Not bad for young LGBT candidates who, between the two of them, had run exactly once before.
A Swing Seat Letdown
If Hoadley and Moss can do well, then surely someone like Garnet Lewis - seasoned campaigner, accomplished professional, community servant, and 2014 State Senate candidate - could do well in a general election in a swing seat, right?
We'll never know.
Most of the 32nd Senate District is in Democratic-leaning Saginaw County, so Democrats needed to win the seat in order to make inroads in a Republican-dominated Senate. In the spring of 2013, Lewis began a quest to win the seat vacated by term-limited Sen. Roger Khan (R). Financially, her efforts paid off. In 2013 alone, she raised nearly $56,000 - all of it from individuals.
But that wasn't enough for some insiders. Never mind the work Lewis had put in - work that must be done in order to win an election. Never mind that Lewis eagerly wanted the seat** - a must for any candidate in a close election. Never mind that other districts went without recruited candidates until just days before the filing deadline. She was still a lesbian - or, as it was often whispered, "she can't win" - and they needed to find someone else.
Finally, in 2014 - a year after Lewis started her campaign and just months before the filing deadline - they got a candidate. As soon as Rep. Stacy Erwin Oakes got into the race, the establishment got behind her. Boy, did they ever get behind her. Bankers. Lawyers. Lobbyists. Healthcare companies. Matty Moroun. PACs. All funded Erwin Oakes's primary campaign. And it paid off in the primary.
But Erwin Oakes lost the general election, 55-45%. She even lost Saginaw County by a 53-47% margin.
How bad is it that she lost Saginaw County? Not only did Saginaw go for Schauer, but even Godfrey Dillard beat Ruth Johnson there. In fact, in this Republican year, 11 of the 13 Democratic nominees who were on the ballot in all of Saginaw County*** finished ahead of their Republican opponents in the county. Only Totten and Erwin Oakes underperformed Republican opponents in Saginaw County.
Why did Erwin Oakes lose? Besides the obvious (that it was a Republican year), I can't tell. Why did she underperform the rest of the Democratic slate? I don't know. Had Lewis been the nominee, would she have won the seat? We'll never know. One thing's for sure, though: had Lewis been nominated, the worst that would've happened is that we would've lost the general.
We lost anyway.
Lessons to Learn
Every election has its share of lessons to teach us. This year, we learned a lot of lessons the hard way. But our victories have plenty to teach us as well.
By their strong showing relative to other Democrats in their districts, Hoadley and Moss have shown us that Democrats need not worry about a candidate's sexual orientation affecting their chances at victory.
Being gay didn't hurt Hoadley or Moss in either the primary or the general.
And it won't hurt future LGBT candidates.
Be not afraid, fellow Democrats. Be not afraid.
*After the straight ticket option, the #1 race on the ballot was Governor/LG. Attorney General was #3 (after Secretary of State), while State Representative was #7.
**The same could not be said of certain other swing seats, in some of which nobody seemed willing to take on the immense task of running a competitive campaign.
***The 13 are Peters, Schauer/Brown (counted as one here), Dillard, Totten, Erwin Oakes, and the statewide education board candidates.