12 gay candidates to watch in 2014

  • Running to represent California’s 52nd congressional district, Carl DeMaio is one of three candidates this year who could become the first openly gay Republican elected to either the U.S. House of Representatives or the Senate. But it’s not just sexual orientation that makes this 39-year-old businessman a trailblazer. DeMaio has branded himself “a new generation Republican,” one who’s pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-background checks for gun purchases, and pro-immigration reform, and one who could very well change the face of the GOP.
  • One of the most interesting races this year is that of Rep. Jared Polis, incumbent Democratic candidate for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District. Since winning a ticket to Capitol Hill in 2008, Polis has bucked the trend in more ways than one. He was the first openly gay male elected to Congress as a freshmen, the first gay member of Congress with a child (Polis and his partner are expecting another little one this month,) and the first to accept bitcoin donations once they became legal. The 39-year-old is also a vocal proponent of legalizing marijuana, a fierce fracking critic, a tech and video game enthusiast, and a self-made millionaire to boot. Now, Polis has his sights set on heading the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a position which would allow him to help and mentor other lightning rod candidates. 
  • Of the three openly gay candidates running for state-level office in West Virginia, Putnam County realtor Josh McGrath likely faces the longest odds. A Democrat, McGrath is vying for one of two seats in the conservative 13th House District. However, like Flowers and Skinner, this president of the Kanawha Valley Board of Realtors enjoys strong community ties, which have already given him a fundraising lead over the competition. 
  • There are a lot of openly gay candidates to get excited about this year, but few can compete with Massachusetts attorney general hopeful Maura Healey, who’s quickly risen to the top tier priority level among groups like the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. Though the 42-year-old lacks any previous electoral experience, she has massive legal cred, especially when it comes to advancing gay rights. As an assistant attorney general, Healey argued – and won –  the first challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was ultimately gutted last year by the U.S. Supreme Court. (The justices ended up ruling on a different DOMA case than the one Healey spearheaded.) If elected, Healey would be the first gay chief law enforcement officer in America.
  • The race for New York’s 19th congressional district is a study in contrasts. At one end, you have Rep. Chris Gibson, a 49-year-old Army veteran and lifelong Kinderhook resident ranked among the least wealthy of House members. While at the other, you have his 27-year-old challenger, Sean Eldridge, a first-time business owner and first-time candidate who recently moved into the neighborhood – and into a $1.9 million home. In 2012, Eldridge married Facebook co-founder and New Republic editor, Chris Hughes, shortly after starting his own venture capital firm. But while Eldridge has a clear financial edge over his opponent, he’s often been criticized as too inexperienced and out of touch with the blue-collar district. And when authenticity and community ties are key for winning elections – especially for openly gay candidates – Eldridge’s “new kid in town” reputation may prove problematic.
  • It was actually Dan Innis’ husband, Doug Paladry, who persuaded this former business school dean to run for New Hampshire’s Congressional District 1. But before he has the chance to unseat Democratic Incumbent Carol Shea-Porter, Innis will have to face off against former Rep. Frank Guinta in September’s Republican primary contest. Innis is one of two openly gay Republican congressional candidates this year who is married, and the only one with children – Benjamin and Nicholas.
  • Since being elected in 2012 to serve Florida House District 49, Democratic state Rep. Joe Saunders has made tremendous strides for Florida’s LGBT community. As one of the state’s first openly gay legislators (along with Rep. David Richardson,) Saunders has introduced the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; stood up for LGBT students and teachers; and advocated on behalf of military same-sex partners. In November, Saunders will face off against either Jesse Phillips, a health information technology director, or Ed Rodriguez, a retired police detective, depending on whoever wins the upcoming Republican primary.
  • Dr. Coy A. Flowers is a Democrat running for a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates, 42nd District. In addition to being a U.S. Navy veteran and practicing OB/GYN, Flowers is also chair of the West Virginia Maternity Care Shortage Committee and the father of a 3rd grader, Alden. As of last month, Flowers had raised more campaign funds than any other House office-seeker in West Virginia, according to the Charleston Gazette.
  • Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has a big week ahead. On Tuesday, the 47-year-old lawyer and former Clinton White House staff secretary will face off in an Independence Party primary against former Republican Rep. Nan Hayworth, whom he narrowly defeated in the last election cycle. If April’s rating from the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call still holds, then New York’s 18th congressional district is currently safe for Democrats. But Maloney may be jittery for a different reason. On Saturday, he’ll be marrying longtime partner, Randy Florke, in front 250 guests as well as their three children — Reinel, Daley, and Essie.
  • Rep. David Cicilline, incumbent Democratic candidate for Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District, is heading into his second re-election battle after a particularly bruising go-round in 2012. In that contest, Cicilline managed to eke out a win over his Republican challenger, Brendan Doherty, despite being outspent by more than 2-1 and having lost the Providence Journal’s coveted endorsement. Cicilline’s 2012 woes dated back to his maiden congressional campaign two years earlier, during which the then-Providence mayor characterized his city’s dismal fiscal status as “excellent.” So far, this year’s race isn’t shaping up to be quite as nasty. But with Rhode Island’s 9.2% unemployment rate – the worst in the country – it very well could be.
  • As the first openly gay person elected to West Virginia’s legislature, Democratic Del. Stephen Skinner, who’s up for re-election this year, took the lead on adding sexual orientation and gender identity protections to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The measure faltered, however, after Skinner became concerned over the scope of a proposed religious exemption, which he believed could render the law meaningless. Yet Victory Fund Press Secretary Steven Thai is confident Skinner will have the opportunity to try again, as he and Flowers have already both “blown their fundraising goals out of the water.”
  • Richard Tisei was serving as a professionally closeted state senator when the Massachusetts Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Ten years (and 18 states) later, Tisei is making a second run at becoming the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress – a title which narrowly eluded him in 2012. But even though the Bay State was first in a growing list where gay and lesbian couples can wed, some in the GOP find it difficult to accept. After Massachusetts Republicans approved a platform this year condemning abortion and same-sex marriage, Tisei, a moderate who married his husband last summer, refused to attend the state’s GOP convention. “I don’t really feel comfortable being at a convention where the platform takes the party backward, rather than forward, as far as appealing to a large group of Massachusetts voters,” Tisei told the Boston Globe

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“Pride Month is a time for celebration. And this year, we’ve got a lot to celebrate,” President Obama told supporters recently at the Democratic National Committee’s annual LGBT gala.

And it’s true. The last 12 months have been nothing short of “remarkable,” as the president said, with marriage equality’s expansion into nine more states, the NFL’s drafting of Michael Sam, the postal service’s decision to feature Harvey Milk on a stamp, and countless other steps – large and small – for equality.

As the midterm elections approach, so too does the opportunity to build on the past year’s historic achievements. Already, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund – a group working to elect LGBT leaders – is endorsing 122 candidates, and expects that number to grow well beyond 200 come November. By contrast, in the last election, Victory Fund was working with 180 candidates.

Here’s a look at gay candidates running in some of the big races to watch this year.

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