Legislative Republicans thought they had an electoral magic bullet when they voted to put an amendment banning gay marriage on the November general election ballot. The constitutional amendment would allow them to highlight a popular issue, motivate a big conservative turnout, and help Republicans up and down the ballot stem what appears to be a Democratic tide in 2006. But it increasingly looks as if the GOP miscalculated: making at least three major strategic errors.
The first mistake Sykes thinks the GOP made was overreaching with the wording of the amendment. Like Indiana's proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, the Wisconsin amendment went further to encompass civil unions and other domestic benefits. Sykes writes, "Had Republicans stopped at the first sentence (defining marriage as between one man and one woman), the debate would have been squarely and unambiguously on the issue of gay marriage and the amendment likely would have passed easily." "But they didn’t, and that decision has shaped the current debate and changed the political dynamic," he concludes.
Sykes thinks the GOP badly miscalculated the degree to which the issue would "motivate and mobilize" the left in Wisconsin. "While conservative and moderates seem somewhat lukewarm, the opposition has been able to raise more than a $1 million and has launched both a well-organized grassroots effort and television ad campaign," Sykes says. With public opinion polls showing the public almost evenly divided, Sykes thinks Wisconsin could very well become the first state in the country to oppose such a constitutional ban. He believes that will lead Wisconsin courts to do what conservatives most feared--legislate from the bench.
The issue raised by amendment opponents which Sykes sees resonating with the state's voters is: “So when you hear this ban is about gay marriage remember, it’s about a whole lot more.” And they're right. What should have been a slam dunk Sykes laments is now up in the air.