GOP Retreats in Latest Battle of the Culture Wars

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 06:  A conservative protester holds a bible as he participates in a prayer meeting in front of the U.S. Supreme Court October 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court announced that it will not hear the five pending same-sex marriage cases, paving the way for gay and lesbian marriage in 11 more states.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 06: A conservative protester holds a bible as he participates in a prayer meeting in front of the U.S. Supreme Court October 6, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court announced that it will not hear the five pending same-sex marriage cases, paving the way for gay and lesbian marriage in 11 more states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)Alex Wong / Getty Images

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The last 48 hours of political news -- the Supreme Court’s (in)action on gay marriage, plus the slew of midterm debates -- has made this pretty clear: Republicans have largely retreated in the latest battle of the Culture Wars. At least for now. And especially in the blue and purple battleground states. As we wrote on Tuesday, Republicans were mostly silent when the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to consider gay-marriage cases, which effectively legalized same-sex marriage in several more states across the country. And at a debate last night that one of us moderated, Republican Ed Gillespie, who’s running for the Senate in purple Virginia, said that while he doesn’t personally back gay marriage because of his faith, he accepted the court’s ruling. “It is the law in Virginia today,” he said. “Of course I accept the ruling.” Gillespie even went on to say that his support in 2004 of a constitutional amendment to enforce that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman was due to being chairman of the Republican National Committee at the time, and didn’t reflect his personal views. Similarly, in Colorado last night, GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner accepted the Supreme Court’s decision. “I have supported traditional marriage, but I also believe that people must be treated with dignity and respect,” he said. “And that is why I will abide by the decision of the courts.”

On gay marriage, contraception, and personhood

And it’s not just gay marriage. In Virginia last night, Gillespie stood by his support of offering contraception to women “behind the counter like Sudafed.” Making the case for tweaking the Obama health care plan, he said: “Talk about having faith in the women of Virginia -- I have faith in the women of Virginia, to make those determinations of what is the best plan and policy for them and their medical needs.” And in Colorado, Gardner explained why he backed the federal Life at Conception Act but now opposes the state “personhood” ballot initiatives he once supported. “I do not support the Personhood Amendment. Sen. Udall said that a good-faith change of position should be considered a virtue, not a vice.”

But this doesn’t mean the Culture Wars are over

Of course, none of this means that the Culture Wars are over for good; the parties will continue to clash over abortion. And it’s worth noting that these examples took places in the blue/purple states of Colorado and Virginia that Obama won in 2012 (though Republicans ALMOST HAVE to win those states to get to 270 electoral votes in the next presidential election). In North Carolina last night, by contrast, Republican Senate candidate Thom Tillis said he would defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban, and he railed against activist liberal judges who he says legislate from the bench, per MSNBC’s Michael LaRosa. But what HAS taken place is Republicans -- for the most part -- have retreated on the culture-war issues that have largely dominated the last two election cycles: gay marriage, contraception, and personhood.

Also at last night’s VA SEN debate

Meanwhile, here is our wrap of last night’s Virginia Senate debate between Gillespie and incumbent Sen. Mark Warner: “Gillespie … sought to paint Warner as a partisan Democrat and stalwart Obama ally… But Warner … countered that Gillespie's former role as a top GOP lobbyist and party leader make him a ‘partisan warrior’ for the Republican Party.” More: “During the debate, Warner highlighted his differences from Obama on the Keystone XL pipeline, on foreign policy -- arguing for a more aggressive response than the administration has enacted against ISIS -- and on reducing the deficit. Asked if he believes Majority Leader Harry Reid is the best possible leader for Senate Democrats, Warner replied: ‘I think we could perhaps do better in both parties moving forward.’” (We wonder what Harry Reid thinks of that answer.) And: “For his part, Gillespie suggested that the RNC's backing of a federal same-sex marriage ban during his tenure as chairman wasn't reflective of his personal views, and he said his party ‘went too far’ in instituting mandatory minimum sentences for crimes.”

And at last night’s other debates in Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, and West Virginia

And here is the wrap from MSNBC’s Michael LaRosa on last night’s FOUR other Senate debates -- in Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, and West Virginia. “In what has been called a ‘Super Tuesday’ of U.S. Senate campaign debates last night, Democratic hopefuls in Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, and West Virginia faced a relentless assault from their Republican opponents tying them to President Obama and accusing them of being his ‘rubber stamp.’ All four debates sounded like re-runs of each other, as GOP candidates marched in lock step using the President's recent remarks, that his policies are on the ballot this year, to discredit Democrats with voters who are unhappy with the Obama Administration. ‘Barack Obama even said this week that his polices are on the ballot,’ said Georgia Republican David Perdue, a line repeated by his Republican counterparts in Colorado, North Carolina and West Virginia.”

You know you’re probably not winning when…

Here’s what Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback told CBN’s David Brody: “I think they [the mainstream media] want what’s happening in this state to fail that they’re shopping for a factual setting to back that up because it’s working.” More Brownback: “I think the left is just so desperate. They want this model to fail so bad that they can’t wait for it to and they just want to get me electorally before we get on through this and prove that this is working.” Our latest NBC/Marist poll showed Brownback trailing Democrat Paul Davis by one point among likely voters, 44%-43%, and it had Brownback’s approval rating among registered voters at 40%.

A campaign about nothing?

NBC’s Perry Bacon Jr. writes that if you’re looking to hear about some of the biggest challenges facing the nation right now – like income inequality, entitlement reform and climate change -- Campaign 2014 is not for you. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent, but Republicans would prefer to bash Obama instead of laying out detailed policy ideas, while Democrats focus on a few poll-tested ones like raising the minimum wage and avoid unpopular ones like climate change. “This has become an election about small things,” said former top Obama strategist David Axelrod. “It’s a tactical election. I think particularly in these swing states, Democrats don’t want a national election. Republicans sort of want a national election, but it’s not an election about ideas.”

First Read’s Race of the Day: NY-11: Grimm vs. Recchia

When an incumbent’s biggest scheduling worry is splitting his time between the campaign and the courtroom, you know you’re in for a rocky race. Republican Michael Grimm was indicted earlier this year on fraud, perjury and conspiracy charges tied to a restaurant he owned -- amusingly named “Healthalicious.” And Grimm didn’t exactly help the case for his good judgment when he was caught on camera telling a reporter “I’ll break you in half. Like a boy.” But Grimm’s unapologetic style has made him remarkably well-liked in this rough-and-tumble Staten Island district, so some observers think he could hold on against Democratic challenger Domenic Recchia.

Countdown to Election Day: 27 days

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