Republican Congressional candidate Carl DeMaio’s new ad looks like most campaign ads – cliched shots of diverse happy voters, American flags, and the local California landscape paired with inspiring music and generic slogans about a “problem solver” who “isn’t afraid to be different.”
That is, with one big exception. Toward the end of the ad, DeMaio’s is seen holding hands with his male partner in one shot and waving a rainbow flag in another. While DeMaio is not the first openly gay Republican to run for Congress, nor would he be the first to serve in office if elected, the ad appears to be a new milestone.
“This is who I am,” DeMaio told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the ad, in an interview. “It’s something that’s important to me. I want to embrace equality, and feel like the party should, too.”
DeMaio, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Scott Peters, is not a fringe candidate. He was the party’s nominee for San Diego mayor in 2012, losing narrowly to Democrat Bob Filner, who later resigned over allegations that he sexual harassed multiple women.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has touted DeMaio as a promising recruit in memos and House GOP leaders, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, have donated to his campaign.
DeMaio, who is one of three openly gay Republicans running for Congress this year, reflects an ongoing change in the party as they adjust to a political environment in which gay rights is broadly popular with voters. Once a powerful wedge issue in the 2004 elections, national Republicans bring the topic up only rarely in ads and speeches. A Republican National Committee memo examining the party’s 2012 losses warned that the gay marriage debate was boosting Democratic margins with young voters and that the party, without necessarily changing their position, needed to become more tolerant.
It’s not always an easy transition. Last year, Congressman Randy Forbes of Virginia reportedly lobbied GOP leaders to withdraw support for DeMaio and another promising openly gay House candidate, Richard Tisei in Massachusetts. It didn’t work: NRCC chairman Greg Walden issued a statement affirming that the “decisions on the Republican nominees we support will not be based on race, gender or sexual orientation but will be based on the strength of their candidacy and their ability to defeat Democrats.” Speaker John Boehner also said he had no problem with gay Republican candidates.
There are no openly gay Republicans currently in the House or Senate. Former Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe and Wisconsin Congressman Steve Gunderson came out while in office during the 1990s and each won re-election before leaving the House.