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HRC targets Santorum for defeat in November

Marty Rouse came to Pittsburgh in June to attend the National Stonewall Democrats convention with a goal of mobilizing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender voters and their allies. 

      But his specific objective here in western Pennsylvania was to usher US Sen. Rick Santorum out of office.

      “He has absolute hostility toward GLBT Americans,” said Rouse, who serves as the national field manager with the Human Rights Campaign. “That really drives everything else we’re trying to do.”

      Working together with local GLBT political organizations like Liberty PA, the HRC intends to affect change on the state level. According to Rouse, each state decision has national political implications.

      “Our goal is to elect a fair-minded legislature and mobilize our members in key congressional areas to get a more GLBT-friendly Congress,” Rouse said. “That’s why getting Santorum out [of office] is so important.” 

      Rouse said a major problem with Santorum is that “he actually believes what he says.” Rouse is concerned that many Americans agree with Santorum’s positions, but he believes fewer Americans are as negative about gays and lesbians as Santorum is.

      “More people have learned about gay people and have come to an understanding of [them],” he said. 

      Rouse said the HRC looks for the tipping-point elections around the country, and “we found one in Pennsylvania that will make a huge difference.”

      Santorum’s position of power in the Republican Party is the primary reason HRC and like-minded organizations want to oust him from office. Rouse believes that if Santorum’s Democratic opponent, Bob Casey, is elected, the Senate will become a more hospitable place for gay issues. 

      HRC partner organizations like Liberty PA attempt to identify legislators who are undecided on GLBT issues and need more convincing. Together the groups helped to elect a GLBT-friendly Democratic candidate in Chester County, a predominantly Republican Senate district. 

      Rouse has his own strong record for affecting change. He ran Bill Clinton’s presidential re-election campaign in Vermont, then went on to work with Mass Equality to advocate for same-sex marriage rights in Massachusetts. 

      HRC’s vision to focus its efforts on the local and state levels stems from the mid-1990s when Republicans took over Congress. During that time, “Our government was more emboldened in ways to work against the GLBT community,” Rouse said. “That was scary for our community.” 

      Rouse noted other changes during that time due to Newt Gingrich’s so-called “Contract With America,” which put more focus on the states rather than the federal government. 

      In addition to the Santorum-Casey race in Pennsylvania, the HRC is focusing on key elections in 11 other states. Rouse said nearby Ohio and Maryland are two states that will see races of importance to GLBT voters.

      “We want to build power on the local level.” Rouse said of HRC’s political efforts. “We’re partnering here; we’re not doing this alone.”