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The morning of Nov. 7 could be a very good day at the downtown D.C. office of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
Having wrapped up federal, state and local endorsements earlier this month, Victory Fund has put the weight of its coveted endorsements behind a record 180 LGBT candidates across the country in a continued effort to increase LGBT representation at all levels of government.
”On the day after Election Day, will we have real exciting news to share? Yes,” declares Victory Fund president and CEO Chuck Wolfe. ”We will have potentially our best Election Day ever.”
On the federal level alone, the number of out members of Congress could double from the current four to as many as eight after Election Day. And Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) could become the first out LGBT person ever elected to the Senate.
Founded in 1991, Victory Fund’s influence has increased dramatically in recent years. As the country’s largest LGBT political action committee, Victory Fund funnels millions of dollars, as well as strategic and technical support, into races across the country, having helped elect thousands of qualified, out LGBT candidates over the years.
For almost a decade, Wolfe, 50, has been the man behind Victory. Since taking the reins in 2003, Wolfe has increased revenue from $1.5 million to $5 million in 2011. And today, there are out elected officials in all 50 states.
”This year, for the first time in history, we have someone elected in every state in the union. It took until 2012 for that to happen,” says Wolfe.
Despite the high profile federal races Victory Fund has stepped into, including Baldwin’s tight race against former Republican Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, Victory Fund’s focus remains largely on the local level where many politicians get their start.
The organization has made nearly 100 endorsements in state legislative races as it continues to build LGBT caucuses in all 50 states. Where Victory Fund has built those caucuses – including in Maryland, Maine, Washington, New York and California – the organization has seen momentous victories for LGBT-rights legislation.
That is not to say Victory Fund’s rigorous endorsement process has not come without controversy. Of the eight congressional candidates Victory Fund has endorsed, one is a Republican and what impact his election may or may not have on Capitol Hill has exposed continued riffs between the LGBT community and the GOP.
Richard Tisei is an out gay Republican who has served in the Massachusetts State Legislature for 26 years and would be the first out gay Republican elected to Congress as a non-incumbent. He supports marriage equality, is pro-choice and repudiated the Republican Party’s socially conservative national party platform in September.
Despite his party affiliation in a heavily Democratic state, Tisei’s candidacy has been propelled by his moderate social views and long history in the state. Moreover, he’s garnered the support of much of the Republican establishment in his efforts to unseat Democratic Rep. John Tierney, who has represented Massachusetts’s 6th District since 1997.
Republican Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown – engaged in his own high-profile race against Elizabeth Warren, who hopes to reclaim the seat once occupied by Sen. Ted Kennedy for the Democrats – has campaigned for Tisei, as has House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Although both men oppose marriage equality, they have been emphatic in their support of Tisei.
Victory Fund’s decision to endorse Tisei isn’t all that surprising. As a nonpartisan organization whose sole mission is to achieve equality through representation on both sides of the aisle, Tisei is just the kind of candidate they have long supported.
”With an openly gay candidate in the race who is completely viable with 26 years of history inside the Massachusetts Legislature, there’s no doubt we’re going to endorse someone like Richard Tisei,” says Wolfe. ”Our belief is, if you’re trying to build a representative democracy, that instead of just giving it lip service, you actually do it.”
While gay voters have long been more inclined to vote Democratic than Republican, that is not to say that trend is not changing.
A poll released by Logo TV earlier this summer found that 26 percent of LGBT voters would consider supporting a Republican if the party more closely mirrored the stances of the Democratic Party on gay issues.
Tisei appears to be one of those Republicans.