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House races won't hang on Obama gay marriage move, says a top Democrat

Obama’s new stance in favor of gay marriage is unlikely to have a big impact on Democrats’ fight to take control of the House, says Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Barack Obama is the first US president to publicly back gay marriage. Peter Grier decodes the politics behind the high-risk move.

President Obama’s decision to come out in favor of gay marriage is unlikely to have a major impact on Democrats’ fight to regain control of the House, says Rep. Steve Israel (D) of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

The battle to take control of the House in the 2012 elections will be "razor close" and is "still uphill for Democrats," who need a net gain of 25 seats to win the majority, Representative Israel said Thursday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters. He argued that the president’s position on gay marriage would not dramatically alter Democrats' chances.  

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“I just don’t think it is going to be a huge dynamic in specific congressional races, because our candidates reflect the priorities and the values of the districts in which they are running,” Israel said. “I don’t think it is that relevant. I am a big believer that each candidate should run their own race. We told our candidates, 'If you agree with the president, state your agreement. If you disagree with the president, state your disagreement.' And it is just that simple."

The American public is split on the issue of gay marriage. A March 2012 ABC News-Washington Post Poll found that 52 percent said gay marriage should be legal, while 43 percent said it should be illegal.

Israel’s assessment may take into consideration a sharp partisan divide on gay marriage. In the Washington Post poll, Democrats supported gay marriage 64 percent, with 32 percent opposed. Among independents, support narrowed to 54 percent versus 42 percent opposed. Among the Republican ranks, gay marriage was opposed by a margin of 57 percent, with 39 percent in favor.

Israel pushed back strongly against suggestions that having Obama at the top of the ticket won't help Democrats' efforts to win the House. Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Wednesday at a Monitor breakfast that Mitt Romney would help Republicans around the country get elected, and then added: “I know a huge number of Democrats that will be busy” when Obama comes to their districts and “don’t even want to be seen with the president.”

“The question is whether Mitt Romney wants to appear with any House Republicans,” the DCCC's Israel countered, when asked about Sessions' comments. “Has Pete taken a look at the polling on House Republicans lately? I think Mitt Romney probably has.”

In the March News/Washington Post poll, 71 percent of those surveyed disapproved of the way Republicans in Congress are doing their job, while 23 percent approved. In the same poll, 60 percent disapproved of how congressional Democrats are handling their duties, while 34 percent approved. 

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