GOP California Senate hopeful Matt Fong quickly signed a pledge to support a set of gay issues after a Republican group threatened to pull its endorsement because of Fong's $50,000 donation to an anti-gay group.
Fong signed the one-page list after negotiating with the gay Log Cabin Club, which threatened to undo his image as a moderate alternative to Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer by yanking its support.
Fong's donation went to the Traditional Values Coalition, an Orange County-based group led by the Rev. Lou Sheldon, a conservative Presbyterian who has compared abortion to murder and advocated quarantining people with AIDS.
"We are opposed to everything Lou Sheldon and the Traditional Values Coalition stand for," said Richard Tafel, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans. But Fong has "as good or better a position on gay and AIDS issues" than many Democratic candidates in the country, he said.
Fong's pledge failed to satisfy the San Francisco Log Cabin chapter, which yanked its support and removed Fong's name from an endorsement to be published this week in the gay newspaper Bay Area Reporter.
Fong pledged to try to maintain or increase AIDS funding, support hate crime laws and job discrimination protections for gays, support the nomination of gay philanthropist James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg and back efforts to provide health insurance and retirement benefits to gay and lesbian domestic partners.
"We've always made it clear that's what he believes in," campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said Tuesday. "We thought it was best to clarify our position."
At an appearance with abortion rights activists Monday night, Boxer said "Fong's contribution shows that not only is he out of the mainstream, he is part of the extreme."
"This is a hate group. You write a check to a hate group, you're making a statement," she said.
Fong made the donation during the spring primary, just when he needed support on his right flank. Conservative Darrell Issa was alerting fundamentalist broadcasters that Fong had been endorsed by the Log Cabin Republicans. After accepting Fong's money, Sheldon weighed in, accusing Issa of a vicious attack.
The Republican said Sheldon assured him that the money, left over from his campaign for state treasurer, was earmarked for a proposed ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriages in California, an effort he supports.
"Reverend Lou is a friend," Fong said in San Diego. "We were working on the Defense of Marriage Act initiative that he was contemplating. It is an act that was supported in principle by President Clinton. I support the defense of a traditional marriage."
Campaign-watchers said the contribution could prove decisive.
"Her strategy all along has been to portray her opponent as a right-winger. This issue feeds right into that strategy," said Gay Jacobson, a University of California, San Diego professor specializing in congressional elections. "She'd be crazy not to take advantage of it."
Boxer is leading Fong among women voters 56 percent to 37 percent, according to the latest Los Angeles Times poll. The survey, which had a margin of error of 4 percentage points, found that nearly one in six Republican women intend to cross party lines to vote for Boxer. Among men, Fong is ahead by 52 percent to 41 percent.