As the presidential campaign thrashes into its final weeks, one segment of Pittsburgh's populace is being singled out for special attention from Sen. Barack Obama's campaign: the region's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters.
In the primary, LGBT voters went strongly for Hillary Clinton. According to a poll conducted by New York City-based Hunter College, 63 percent of LGBT voters backed Clinton compared to 22 percent for Obama. And now there are fears that some of these voters, still stinging from Clinton's defeat, will either sit out the election, write in Clinton or vote for John McCain.
"There was a major disconnect on this side of the state between Obama and the LGBT vote," says Gary Van Horn, of Pittsburgh's LGBT-advocacy group the Delta Foundation and owner of Images, a LGBT bar downtown. "There was huge support for Hillary. Obama didn't spend much time reaching out.
"I was pretty hurt after the primary -- I would cut off my leg for Hillary," Van Horn adds. "I never heard from Obama."
Obama Pride, the grassroots LGBT arm of the campaign, is hoping to change that. The group is partnering with Hillary Sent Me, a national push to nudge disenchanted Clinton supporters over to the Obama camp. The organizations are working side-by-side in Pittsburgh, and the campaign has sent Jamie Citron, deputy director of LGBT Vote, to Pittsburgh for the final push to the finish.
"Within the LGBT community, support for Hillary Clinton was so strong, people never got properly introduced to Barack Obama," Citron says. "In the primary, constituency outreach was not our strongest suit. I wouldn't call it a race to catch up; it's a push to introduce Barack. There's a large population here. I think it's been undercourted. ... Here in Pittsburgh, LGBT folks who supported Clinton just haven't felt the same excitement."
The weekend of Oct. 17 saw eager volunteers from New York begin the Hillary Sent Me door-knocking campaign, including heavy-hitters like Joan McGarry, past executive director of GLAAD, who shared her story of going from hardcore Hillary fan to ardent Obama supporter. The prior weekend saw a private reception for local leaders featuring Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
The point, says Citron, is "to unite Democrats, independents, like-minded Republicans to get involved." But the focus isn't necessarily on getting voters committed to Sen. John McCain to come over to Obama's side: It's getting folks who plan to sit out the election, or to write in Clinton's name, to make the jump to Obama.
"The vast majority of Hillary supporters have come over. People want to make their voices heard -- I've heard people saying, 'I'm going to write in Hillary Clinton,'" Citron says. "I can't say it's not admirable, but in a swing state like Pennsylvania, a write-in vote or a decision not to vote is a vote for McCain."
After the primary, Van Horn says, he got a call from Mark Walsh, Clinton's national LGBT outreach coordinator, imploring him to take his fervent Clinton support and move it to Obama. He did, and has been working to get friends and colleagues to do the same.
Van Horn is hoping the outreach efforts will help aggrieved Clinton supporters see a larger picture. "This is a lot bigger than Hillary right now," Van Horn says. "It's about the country."