Sen. Rick Santorum is recruiting gay people in Pennsylvania -- even if it is indirectly.
Steel City Stonewall Democrats, which organizes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters, bid for the national Stonewall Democrats' convention to be in Pittsburgh this summer, but on Feb. 28, the group's new national leader, Eric Stern, announced a better idea: hold it here in 2006.
Does it have something to do with Santorum being up for re-election that November?
"Absolutely," says Stern, speaking from the group's Washington, D.C. office on the first day of his job. "We're bringing the organizing here because it's going to be a very difficult race."
There are Stonewall Democrat clubs in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, too; Stern hopes to seed groups in Allentown, Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and State College through the convention. He also wants to increase the number of campus groups in the state, currently a dozen, including affiliates at the University of Pittsburgh and Chatham College. He believes the LGBT vote will be "crucial" against Santorum, adding, "When you talk about the LGBT vote, I think also about family members, co-workers. There are a lot of people now who are affected by LGBT issues," from adoption to marriage.
"Pennsylvania is going to get a lot of money pro-Santorum and anti-Santorum," says Scott Safier of the Steel City group. Safier is also on the Stonewall Democrats' national board. "I really don't favor that -- the people of Pennsylvania are going to elect their senator. But I think it's both good for Stonewall to get national interest in this campaign as a recruiting tool, and it's good for raising the profile of the Pittsburgh LGBT community, even the Pennsylvania LGBT community." Safier also says the group wants to aid in Gov. Ed Rendell's re-election that year, since Rendell is a big supporter.
There's no sense in staying quiet or not congregating for fear of riling the anti-gay voters who make up some of Santorum's base of support, says Stern. "I think Santorum will definitely use the growth of the gay community in his campaign to tie up his base," he concludes, "but he risks losing some of the fair-minded voters throughout Pennsylvania."