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Timing of gay marriage announcement paying dividends for Obama

 

Though President Obama supposedly was not planning to endorse gay marriage until closer to the Democratic convention, the decision to make the call last week has paid dividends -- helping him raise at least $21 million for his campaign coffers in a matter of days. 

Based on ticket information provided by the campaign and other estimates, the five fundraisers Obama has attended since his endorsement last Wednesday have brought in at least that much. The haul was aided in large part by the $15 million fundraiser at the home of actor George Clooney. 

The total continues to underscore how the Obama campaign has quickly managed to turn a potential political liability into a political tool, at least in the short term -- either to paint GOP candidate Mitt Romney as intolerant, divert attention from the economy or simply raise money. 

If the last point was the goal, it's a strategy that's paying off. And based on a New York Times/CBS News poll, the controversial position might not even cost him much at the polls, considering the survey shows gay marriage is a top issue for just 7 percent of voters. 

The president's fundraiser Monday evening with openly gay singer Ricky Martin was just the latest venue where Obama was able to tout his administration's efforts to fight for gay rights and raise money on the side. By arranging for an interview last Wednesday to announce his position shift, the president was able to pivot immediately to a string of appearances and fundraisers -- including two on Monday -- where his decision, to put it mildly, was welcomed. 

For those dizzy from the past week of developments, the following is a timeline of what preceded and followed Obama's pivot. 

Oct. 3, 2011: In Obama's most recent public comments on gay marriage before his endorsement, the president tells ABC News that "at minimum" gay couples should have strong civil unions. He says he doesn't plan to "make news right now" -- asked whether he'd change his mind on gay marriage before the election, Obama says: "I'm still working on it." 

May 6, 2012: In an interview aired on NBC's "Meet the Press," Vice President Biden says he's "absolutely comfortable" with gay marriage rights. 

May 7: Education Secretary Arne Duncan says in a TV interview that he thinks gay couples should be allowed to legally marry. 

May 7: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says he has "no update" on Obama's personal views, but claims Biden was making "the same point" Obama had made previously on the rights of gay couples. Duncan, he says, was expressing a "personal opinion." 

May 9: Obama calls an interview with ABC News, and announces that in his personal view, "same-sex couples should be able to get married." 

May 10: The Obama campaign releases a web video that focuses on the gay-marriage announcement, and calls Romney "backwards on equality." 

May 10: Obama travels to Seattle for a pair of campaign fundraisers. From there, he heads to Los Angeles for another fundraiser at George Clooney's house. The president sets a single-day fundraising record, pulling in nearly $15 million. 

May 14: Obama delivers the commencement address at Barnard College, touching on the gay-marriage debate. He then tapes an interview with "The View," where he again discusses his gay-marriage announcement. From there, he heads to two fundraisers in New York, one hosted by the LGBT Leadership Council, Ricky Martin and The Futuro Fund. At the event, Obama declares the Defense of Marriage Act should be repealed. 

While the president has done well for himself at the fundraisers since his announcement, the campaign is also selling LGBT merchandise on its official website. The novelty items include shirts, posters, stickers and even a $10 "Obama Pride" can holder. 

Politically, pundits continue to speculate on whether Obama's announcement helps or hurts him. Obama's advisers have suggested they were taking a political risk with the announcement. After all, several battleground states are not exactly receptive to the president's view, considering they have statutory and/or constitutional bans on gay marriage -- including in North Carolina, the latest to join that list. 

But the New York Times/CBS News poll indicated the issue might not resonate all that much in trying economic times. While it showed gay marriage as the top issue for just 7 percent of voters, an overwhelming majority picked the economy as the No. 1 issue in the upcoming election. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said last Thursday that, for the administration, the economy remains the top matter of concern. 

"The president's focus ... has been and will continue to be on jobs and the economy," Carney said. "That's been the -- creating greater security for a middle class in this country that has been under stress for a long time, even predating the Great Recession, has been No. 1 priority.  It was his No. 1 priority when he ran for office, for this office, and it has been his priority since he took the oath of office."