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Will Romney use gay marriage issue against Obama?

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
May 10, 2012 -- Updated 1616 GMT (0016 HKT)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stands, with his wife Ann, before start of a game between Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stands, with his wife Ann, before start of a game between Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: For years, the economy has been seen as the dominant issue
  • He asks if Obama's support for gay marriage will change the Romney camp's direction
  • LZ: Obama showed he is no coward; he didn't have to address the issue before election
  • He says the move separates Obama from Romney, whose flip flops have been an issue

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.

(CNN) -- For the better part of four years, voters have said the No. 1 issue is the economy.

For the past year, the economy has been the GOP's primary point of attack against President Obama.

For months, the economy and job creation has been Mitt Romney's calling card.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

So now that the president has stepped out and voiced support for marriage equality, we're going to see if the economy and jobs remain the top issue or if the direction of this election has been permanently altered by Obama's historic remarks.

Remember, Republicans characterized the war on women as a Democratic strategy to divert attention from the "real issue" of the economy. Over the next couple of days, we'll see if the GOP will be as dismissive with gay rights. Or will the fact that in 2004, George W. Bush successfully used discrimination against the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender (GLBT) community to motivate his base be too juicy a strategy for Romney and the gang to pass up?

Keep in mind that a CNN/ORC International poll taken in late March showed gay rights was tied for dead last in what voters felt was the most important issue, so if the GOP does try to use Obama's remarks as weapons against him, there is a good chance the rhetoric will fall on deaf ears. Perhaps Romney said it best himself, during a big primary night victory speech in April: "It's still about the economy and we're not stupid."

Obama's same-sex stance spurs reaction
Romney: My view same on gay marriage

But it's Romney speaking, and he's never been married to any position for very long -- pun intended.

In 1994, when he referred to himself as a moderate, Romney told the Log Cabin Republicans -- a GLBT organization -- that he'd be better than Sen. Ted Kennedy on gay rights. Wednesday, he reiterated his views in his latest incarnation as a conservative by saying that he's against marriage equality and civil unions. So whether or not Romney actually stays focused on the economy is anyone's guess.

This probably explains why Obama holds double-digit leads over Romney on likeability, honesty, confidence, values and leadership -- and that was before Obama's courageous interview with Robin Roberts on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Even in the one area where on paper Romney has significant credibility -- the economy -- 44% of voters believe the president will do a better job, while 42% prefer Romney, according to a CNN poll. If Romney can't get any more traction from his calling card, nor a boost from his vice presidental selection, there is the possibility the economy will take a backseat to gay rights in his campaign.

Assuming of course, it hasn't already.

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I guess we'll have to wait and see what kind of ads begin to emerge and what he says on the trail once the initial dust has settled.

But what is clear is that President Obama is no coward.

Critics can question the timing of his remarks but the reality is, he didn't have to state his support for marriage equality before the election.

Even with reporters dogging him at every news conference because of the remarks on same-sex marriage made by Vice President Joe Biden over the weekend, all Obama had to say was "I'm getting there" and we would've moved on. But in embracing a view most assumed he had anyway, Obama places his core convictions ahead of political expediency. That's very rare to see in an election year.

What he did took a great deal of courage, especially considering that a recent Gallup poll showed 48% of Americans are against same-sex marriages and that North Carolina, a swing state he barely won four years ago, just voted against marriage equality and civil unions, with a vote of 61% to 39%.

But because of that, Obama further separates himself from his opponent -- whose biggest weakness has been his perceived lack of conviction about matters of importance -- and moves closer to the Abraham Lincoln, FDR, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson realm of presidents: Men who risked a great deal personally to move the country forward socially. And given the fact that he can point to the 12 consecutive months of job losses before taking office and the 26 consecutive months (and counting) of job growth since 2010, there's no reason to believe the economy will cease to be his campaign's top focus.

As it should be.

We'll find out if the GOP agrees.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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