Ballot Box

Tim Kaine dodges questions on gay marriage

Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) dodged repeated questions on whether he supported gay marriage Tuesday morning, saying he's for "legal equality of relationships" but avoiding taking a stance on whether he supported civil unions or gay marriage.

Speaking at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way in Washington, the Senate candidate argued that gay couples should have the same legal rights as straight ones but would not say whether that meant he personally supported gay marriage or whether he thought it should be legal, even after reporters pointed out that Virginia gives out legal marriage certificates and not civil union certificates.

"The underlying issue is, should committed couples have the same legal rights and responsibilities? and the answer to that is an unequivocal yes," he said. "I believe in the legal equality of relationships. The debate about 'Is it marriage, is it a civil union, is it domestic partnership?' — I kind of let that one go, and say the legal issue is, Should committed couples be treated the same by law? And I think the answer is yes. Just as we do now, churches would be able to make their own decisions about which relationships they'd want to celebrate — that wouldn't change — but as a matter of law I do fundamentally believe that couples should be treated equally."

When asked if he believed if marriage equality is a civil right, he reframed the issue.

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Democratic super-PAC spending $340,000 on race for Giffords seat

House Majority PAC, a super-PAC supporting Democratic candidates, will spend $340,000 in the special election to replace former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

The group will air television ads targeting Republican Jesse Kelly for a three-week period starting Friday.

"Jesse Kelly may be trying to pull the wool over the eyes of voters, but the House Majority PAC ad will remind Arizonans of just how extreme Jesse Kelly is — using his own words," said Andy Stone, a spokesman for the PAC.

Kelly faces Democrat Ron Barber, a former Giffords aide, in a June special election to finish Giffords's term.

Major campaign groups in Washington have already spent heavily on the race, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee both dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars on ad time in southern Arizona.

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Rep. Tierney, GOP opponent mull outside-group pledge

Taking a page from the Massachusetts Senate race playbook, Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) challenged Republican opponent Richard Tisei on Monday to sign a pledge barring outside groups from spending in their House race.

The pact mirrors one forged by Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Democrat Elizabeth Warren in January to keep super-PACs and other groups from funneling millions of dollars into the race. The agreement has been used as a starting point for candidates in other races to consider adopting similar agreements to counter outside spending, including in Montana, California and Illinois.

Under the pact, whose success has surprised many early skeptics, any candidate who benefits from an ad aired by an outside group must donate half the cost of the ad to a charity of his or her opponent's choosing.

"I can see no reason why we would not enter the exact same agreement, unless one of our campaigns decided that we actually want these outside groups running attack ads in this state," Tierney wrote in a letter to Tisei, the former minority leader of the state Senate.

Both the Massachusetts Democratic Party and the Massachusetts Republican Party told The Hill that they would abide by such an agreement and refrain from spending in the race if the candidates reached agreement.

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BALLOT BOX OVERNIGHT: All about the economy

Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Ballot Box's Overnight — an evening update of all the day's campaign news.

TOP STORY: It’s the economy ...

Every election it’s the same story: the economy.

And a new poll of swing states out Monday shows voters trust Mitt Romney in handling it more than they do President Obama.

In the USA Today/Gallup Swing States Poll, 60 percent of respondents said Romney would do a good job of handling the economy versus 52 percent who said that of Obama.

As for a head-to-head election matchup, it’s a virtual tie: Obama with 47 percent to Romney’s 45. (See full poll results at USA Today)

Six months before the election that’s bad news for Obama. And it’s a trend we’ve seen more election cycles than we count: unhappy voters mean losing incumbents — just ask Nicolas Sarkozy.

Speaking of bad new for incumbents, conventional wisdom has Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) losing his primary on Tuesday to Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer and Tea Party favorite. The loss would leave Democrats gleeful, giving them a chance to pick up the seat, which could help them retain control of the upper chamber. Lugar, a six-term senator, told a local TV station on Monday if he lost he would support Mourdock over Democratic nominee Rep. Joe Donnelly in November.


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Underdogs reassert themselves in Nebraska Senate GOP primary

The underdog Republican candidates in the primary for retiring Sen. Ben Nelson's (D-Neb.) seat reasserted themselves Monday, with Nebraska state Treasurer Don Stenberg (R) unveiling a key endorsement and state Sen. Deb Fischer (R) releasing a new ad and an internal poll.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a rising conservative leader and son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R), backed Stenberg, joining other fiscal conservatives such as Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) who had already backed Stenberg.

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House Dems hit Boehner on gay rights after Biden marriage comments

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has sent out an online petition focused on gay rights on a day dominated by talk of Vice President Biden's comments seemingly in support of gay marriage.

The fundraising email attacks House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that allows states to not recognize same-sex marriages from other states. The Obama administration has stopped defending in court after deciding the law was unconstitutional.

"I was shocked to hear that Speaker John Boehner decided to use our tax dollars to intervene and stand up for DOMA to deny [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] Americans the rights they deserve. This is discrimination — plain and simple," writes DCCC digital director Brandon English. "It's not enough that Speaker Boehner continues to be wrong when it comes to equal rights — his legal action to defend DOMA will cost taxpayers $1.5 million!"

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Leppert touts controversial pastor's endorsement in Texas Senate race

Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert (R) is touting the backing of the controversial pastor who criticized Mitt Romney for being Mormon and described it as a "cult" at last fall's Values Voters Summit.

Leppert, who is fighting for enough support to make it into the runoff for the seat left open by retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), sent out praise from Dallas-area Pastor Robert Jeffress in an email to reporters on Monday.

"As they hear more about Mayor Leppert, I think Christian conservatives will understand that not only is he a Christian conservative, but he's a businessman, and also he's a consensus builder," Jeffress said to a local Dallas television station. "I don't think personally we need any more flamethrowers in Washington, D.C., we need consensus-builders to solve the very real problems in our country, and I think Tom is one of those people."

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