Perhaps the most interesting question after Saturday’s runoff election is the gay one: Did Ed Oakley lose votes because of his sexual orientation -- or, at least, the way it became part of the campaign in recent weeks? Certainly many Friends of Unfair Park believe so, and if he did, it’s hard to feel too sorry for him, since he likely picked up plenty of votes (in the general election, at least) by proslytizing against multifamily housing. You can’t expect the Limbaugh vote to help you in one part of town and not hurt you elsewhere.
But it does take the luster off Tom Leppert’s resounding victory if he padded his victory margin with anti-gay voters. There’s obviously no way to tell; even if there were exit polling on Saturday, who was going to admit to being a bigot? But maybe it’s not entirely that simple. Craig Murphy, the spokesman for Oakley’s campaign, says the gay issue stuck to Oakley so strongly that they couldn’t fashion his image as anything other than that.
“In our business we talk about branding candidates,” Murphy says. “What’s the first thing you think about when you think about a candidate? With Max Wells, the first thing people thought of was ‘old.’ We saw it in the polling, we saw it on the street. And I think that was a factor for Oakley.”
It didn’t help that The Dallas Morning News saw fit to run a front-page story about how Ed Oakley’s sexual orientation was not an issue -- oh, the irony -- on the first day of early voting. Nor was it cool that Oakley again had to answer if his sexual orientation was an issue during a televised debate. Because of those types of calorie-free questions, Oakley struggled to define himself as something more than a gay candidate. At least, that’s what Murphy says.
I think he may be on to something. We all know that many voters -- outside of Unfair Park’s engaged collection of readers, of course -- can be rather indolent, unwilling to study the candidates' issues and background to make the most informed choice possible. It’s a campaign's job to get through to those people too -- but if all they hear is that Oakley is gay, they may not take the time to listen to anything else.
This may not necessarily mean that these voters were bigoted. Put it another way, if you had to choose between the candidate who is a successful businessman versus a candidate who is straight -- and that’s the first thing that comes to mind about each of them -- who are you going to choose?
Maybe this wouldn’t have affected a more articulate candidate than Oakley -- a group that includes just about everybody in Dallas who can complete a sentence. And, of course, most of the blame for Oakley’s loss has to go to the campaign itself, which lost focus toward the end and turned surprisingly mean-spirited. But for a candidate who struggled to get his message out, being gay might have gotten in the way. --Matt Pulle
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.