Political Fallout from Don't Ask, Don't Tell

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The Obama administration's decision to appeal a judge's order overturning the ban on gay members of the military to expressing their sexuality openly, will likely douse some of the embers of voter intensity Democrats are working so hard to fan these days.

One needed only watch the excitement on the subject Sen. Patty Murray demonstrated in her debate with challenger Dino Rossi to get a sense of how the issue moves liberal America.

Murray described the plaintiff in the lawsuit Obama is appealing, a Washington state woman who was discharged from the Air Force for lesbianism, as a "hero." In a debate that had seen Murray mostly flat and wary, the gay issue actually got some zip out of the three-term incumbent.

President Obama has had a difficult time with gay voters - a significant bloc inside the Democratic base. Gay activists mostly preferred Hillary Clinton in 2008 and have generally seen Obama as dragging his feet since taking office, especially on the issue of gay marriage.

The lack of a high-profile gay member of the administration and a general sense of discomfort with the issue has left gay Democrats feeling ignored. Remember the swiftness with which the administration slammed the door on questions about Justice Elena Kagan's personal life? It was as if someone was accusing her of having been in the Communist Party.

But activists have been heartened by his decision to extend federal benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees and accepted, initially, his plan for the elimination of the ban on open expressions by gay service members.

But moving forward on "don't ask, don't tell" has proved an unhappy project for the Obama-gay alliance.

More allegations of foot dragging and more hurt feelings have followed as the administration was backed down on a repeal by lawmakers who want to make the move conditional on a report from military leaders. And as outgoing Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway told FOX News' colleague Jennifer Griffin today, many military leaders are none too happy about the idea.

The decision by President Obama to fight the repeal of the ban in court while simultaneously lobbying for the repeal of the ban in Congress seems unlikely to reassure culturally conservative Democrats and independents. It might have been worse for the president's party with these voters if Obama had laid down on the issue and simply lifted the ban in accordance with the judge's ruling. But for cultural conservatives and military voters, one suspects it's very slim solace.

But judging by traffic on the left side of the Internet and discussion with Democrats, Obama's decision to appeal the case is being greeted with howls of derision if not outright anger among many in the Democratic base.

Because of Obama's decision, politicians like Murray and California's Barbara Boxer have to spend time reassuring liberal supporters of their gay bona fides, which is not likely to appeal to more moderate voters.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.