Romney Stays in the Closet on Gay Marriage

Photograph by Jae C. Hong/AP Photo

Mitt Romney walks with executives from Charlotte Pipe and Foundry Company, and Sen. Richard Burr, in Charlotte, N.C., on May 11, 2012.

It seems like nearly every political figure in America is talking about gay marriage this week — except Mitt Romney.

The Republican presidential nominee has studiously avoided mentioning gay marriage — or any other divisive social issue — in event after event on the campaign trail this week.

Speaking to voters in Charlotte, North Carolina today, a pivotal swing state that passed a ban on gay marriage just three days ago, Romney kept his speech tightly focused on attacking President Barack Obama’s economic policies and assailing him for supporting the “old liberal policies from the past.”

“This is a recovery that’s been slow and tepid because of his policy,” he told a crowd gathered in the warehouse of a pipe and foundry company. “By his own measures, his policies haven’t worked.”

The remarks were nearly identical to those he gave yesterday in Omaha, Nebraska and in Lansing, Michigan earlier this week.

While candidates often deliver the same message day-after-day, Romney’s careful avoidance of the major topic dominating the news demonstrates how his campaign is trying to pivot away from the divisive social issue of gay marriage and back to more comfortable ground of economic issues.

His advisors are divided over how strongly to contrast Romney’s strong opposition to same-sex marriage with Obama’s endorsement of the policy which he articulated for the first time in an interview with ABC News this week. Some aides, like senior adviser Ed Gillespie, believe the campaign should make this issue “a bright-line difference in this campaign,” as a way to energize grassroots Republicans and independent voters in swing states — like North Carolina — who oppose gay marriage.

Others would prefer Romney stick to an economic message. The still-struggling economy is the major issue of the campaign and one that those aides argue gives Romney, a former private equity CEO, a natural advantage.

So far, the latter camp seems to be winning the debate. Romney is set to give the commencement address at Liberty University tomorrow, an evangelical Christian college that draws social conservatives, exactly the type of Republican voters that would be energized by their candidate picking a fight over gay marriage. But, as my colleague Julie Hirshfeld Davis reported this morning, Romney is not expected to deliver the cultural red meat that many in that wing of the party are craving. Instead, early excerpts of the speech released by the campaign show an address focused on improving the economy, and on the broader, nearly-universal graduation speaker themes of faith, family, work and service.

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