Jesse Connolly: ‘Observations from the Trenches in Maine’

Cross-posted with permission from Huffington Post.

Observations from the Trenches in Maine

By Jesse Connolly

Former Campaign Manager of No on 1 / Protect Maine Equality

While it’s difficult and, one might suggest, even slightly irresponsible to weigh in on our marriage equality loss so soon, it’s also tough to sit on the sidelines while others make sweeping proclamations or conclusions, usually hundreds or thousands of miles away from Maine.

This was a very painful loss. The simple fact is that their margins were wider in the places they needed to win, and our winning margins were either smaller than we projected, or we lost bigger in places where we needed to keep it much closer. Clearly, there is town-by-town, city-by-city analysis we need to do and much of that is already underway.

Nonetheless, permit me to make a few observations.

First and foremost, marriage equality is a complex issue. Many people are conflicted and we know from national and state specific polling that it is very difficult to move people on this issue, particularly in the confines of short campaigns.

Secondly, our opponents capitalized on that conflict by constant distortion and misrepresentation. It reminds me of the movie, Supersize Me: why order a midsize coke when you can have a giant coke? Their bar is much lower than ours. They only have to plant and feed the doubt. And it is difficult to fully restore any reputation, be it an issue or character, that’s plagued by constant doubt.

Remember, this was a campaign where we got up on the air first and where we put genuine Maine values as the context for supporting marriage equality. We used real Maine families: gay and lesbian Mainers and their kids, and parents who wanted all of their children treated equally under the law. In sharp contrast to other campaigns, gay and lesbian families were woven into our advertising and images as they are in society – organically and realistically.

We also acted and responded like a campaign: no negative went unanswered, and any paid media attack got a swift rebuttal, usually within 24 hours. The messages were tested, we were disciplined across media lines — from earned and paid traditional media, to new media, including social networking sites and outlets.

We were also benefited by a strong coalition of 60 state and national organizations who gave us the help we asked for, but didn’t ask to run the campaign. In short, we got the money and the support we needed to run the campaign we wanted to run.

But here’s where it gets tricky and here’s where we need some answers over the next several weeks or months. It’s clear that polling research, both ours and others, did not capture the intensity of Yes on 1 support. Polling cannot predict turnout and the impact of Tuesday’s turnout was counterintuitive. We weren’t alone: our opponents, political observers and field operatives all believed a high turnout benefited the NO on 1 vote. With voting approaching 60% in Maine, it’s clear that wasn’t true.

Here’s what I do believe after some sleep and a break from the caffeine: we moved the equality ball further up the hill, not just in Maine, but everywhere else. Voters do need these conversations which we had by the tens of thousands; they do need to see real gay and lesbian couples and their children up close and personal; and they do need to be reminded that these are neighbors and soccer coaches we’re talking about, not “homosexual activists” which is the well worn handle our opponents trot out.

I’m not skirting anything here when I suggest that we need to remember that it was not long ago when we were losing in double digits, when they threw an anti-marriage equality question on a ballot in a presidential year to drive conservatives to the polls.

It may turn out to be simply this: that by moving this basic premise of equality from the sink hole of catastrophic defeat state after state, year after year, to within striking distance of a win, that we are almost to the finish line. This tide is turning and you can tell by the histrionics from our opponents, from their “gathering storm.”

It’s not fast enough for most of us, certainly not for the families who deserve the same basic protections my wife, son and I enjoy, but we’re getting close. We will learn more from Maine, we will keep making progress and we will win.

Let no one doubt — least of all our opponents — that we’re in this for the long haul, until all Maine families are treated equally. This has always been much more than another campaign. It’s about love and family and that will always be something worth fighting for.

Jesse Connolly was the NO on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign manager.

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