Biden to speak to gay rights group as he ponders WH bid

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Vice President Biden would have immediate, strong support within the LGBT community should he decide to run for president. 

Several top Democrats believe Biden could pull support away from front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonFormer Treasury Secretary Paulson will vote for Clinton Clinton warning about 'accessible' email adds fuel to controversy Clinton slams Trump on immigration in Arizona op-ed MORE in large part due to his early support for same-sex marriage, a notion Clinton supporters strongly dispute. 

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Biden on Saturday will have a prime opportunity to appeal to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters when he delivers the keynote speech at the annual gala of the Human Rights Campaign, the most influential gay rights group in the country. 

Before that, Clinton is scheduled to have breakfast with the group’s leaders, but she won’t speak at the main event. Clinton turned down an invitation to headline the gala to appear on “Saturday Night Live,” according to The New York Times

One Democratic donor, who is a former senior political operative in the LGBT world, said many in the community deeply admire Clinton but have a soft spot for Biden because he “speaks very authentically” about gay rights. 

“He pushed Obama off the cliff,” the operative said. “There's a lot of good feeling for him because he was on the leading edge as opposed to responding to political events.”

The operative said he has been a regular donor to the Clinton campaign but conceded, “I would stop my contributions and go ‘wait a minute’ ” if Biden jumped in. “I’m a guy that goes with my heart not my head.”

Though small in size, the LGBT community has become a key constituency for Democrats. Its members are politically active, donating money to and working on behalf of candidates around the country. 

The gay and lesbian community could serve as a natural base of support for Biden. The vice president is widely seen as having advanced its cause in 2012 by becoming the highest-ranking elected official to publicly endorse same-sex marriage, one of the most politically charged social issues in the country. 

His decision virtually forced President Obama to announce his backing for same-sex marriage just days later. LGBT activists also praise Biden for stating in 2012 that transgender rights are “the civil rights issue of our time.” 

“I trust the VP is going to push these issues. I can’t say the same for Hillary,” said Jay Franzone, communications director for the National Gay Blood Drive, who is undecided in the race.

But many Democrats say it’s too late for Biden to win over gay Democrats already committed to Clinton.

“I don’t think people will leave Hillary Clinton to support him, no,” said veteran Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf, who is backing Clinton. “His biggest problem is he is late. She has been running for president for nine months. ... It’s hard to show up late in the game and get much support.”

Having already launched her campaign, Clinton has an advantage over Biden in winning over backers within the LGBT community. 

Her campaign announced this week it hired a new staffer, Dominic Lowell, to serve as liaison to the LGBT community. Several high-ranking Clinton officials, including campaign manager Robby Mook, are openly gay. 

“A lot of LGBT people have been hosting him at events,” one longtime LGBT activist said of Mook. “It's hard to pry people away from her campaign.”

Clinton has portrayed herself as a champion of gay rights. Her campaign launch video showed a gay couple holding hands and she has spoken out about LGBT issues on the campaign trail. Her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, has been on the sideline for the most part, but her first campaign appearance took place at the gay pride parade in New York. 

Team Clinton will continue to have a steady outreach program and include the LGBT community in policy rollouts, a campaign aide said.

While Biden was first to endorse same-sex marriage, Clinton's supporters note she delivered a 2011 speech as secretary of State that called gay rights and human rights “one and the same.” 

She announced her support for same-sex marriage in 2013. 

“I don’t think there is any substantive difference in their support for gay marriage,” Elmendorf said of Clinton and Biden. 

Biden will reportedly sit out the first Democratic debate on Oct. 13, and while he remains undecided on a bid, his supporters have reached out to influential figures in the LGBT community to ask for their support if he runs. 

Jon Cooper, national finance director for the Draft Biden super-PAC, said at least half a dozen LGBT bundlers are committed to backing the vice president if he enters the race, including one who contributes to Clinton. 

“There is a very deep reservoir of support for the vice president, [and] folks are just waiting for him to announce his run,” said Cooper, a former Obama bundler. “Once he does, they will be there, and a good number will be members of the LGBT community.” 

Another Biden supporter, Erik Ramanathan, said the majority of donors he is recruiting are undecided. But he said many Clinton backers are considering switching allegiances to Biden or donating to the Democratic National Committee. 

“There’s a great appreciation for Biden in the LGBT community and across the country,” he said. “That’s why I am doing what I am doing.”

Biden supporters are loath to directly criticize Clinton. But they imply Clinton’s stance on gay rights is an example of a broader criticism against her, that her political choices are too calculated. 

A recently released Clinton email contained a message from 2011 in which she objected to a change on State Department forms designed to accommodate same-sex couples. The change would have used gender-neutral terms to describe parents, replacing “mother” and “father.”

“We need to address this today or we will be facing a huge Fox-generated media storm led by Palin et al,” she wrote in the email. 

Biden backers say his support for gay rights dates back decades. 

In the Senate, he backed expanding hate-crime legislation to include sexual orientation and he led the charge against Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in the 1987, which paved the way for Anthony Kennedy to reach the bench. Kennedy wrote the court’s opinion legalizing same-sex marriage this summer. 

In a July speech, he recalled what his father told him as a child the first time he saw two men kissing.

“He said, Joey, they love each other. It’s simple,” Biden said. 

But some Clinton supporters note Biden’s record is not without blemishes. As a senator, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which was signed by then-President Bill Clinton. The law, which was overturned by the high court, blocked federal recognition of same-sex marriages. 

All LGBT activists agree the stakes are high for them in the race for the White House. 

They are looking for a Democratic nominee who is electable and would defend the gains made during the Obama administration on gay rights, including same-sex marriage and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The next president could also appoint multiple justices to the Supreme Court. 

“We're going to have to work harder to protect the gains that we’ve made,” Obama said last week at a Democratic Party LGBT gala. “We're going to have to work harder to widen the circle of opportunity for all who strive for it. It will not be easy.”