But the parallels only go so far. Fight Back Rhode Island will not be filming promotional videos starring Cynthia Nixon, Rosie Perez, and Whoopi Goldberg. And it will not raise $790,000.

Sullivan suggests a goal closer to $25,000. And even that modest target could prove elusive. Rhode Island advocates will face significant competition for national attention and dollars from Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington state, where voters are set to weigh in on high-profile gay marriage ballot initiatives this fall.

But the Ocean State, given its size, may not need the kind of cash that flowed into New York. Legislative districts, here, are small. Candidates don't make expensive television advertising buys. "We're a cheap date," says Sullivan. Besides, he adds, the campaign's real strength will be "boots on the ground" — a small army of volunteers flooding a handful of key districts.

Of course, the "ground game" argument is a standard one offered up by low-dollar campaigns: no money, that's OK, we'll win it with people power. And there is a real danger in overestimating the impact of such efforts.

But in small-universe races where a couple hundred votes can make the difference, advocates insist they can tip the balance.

Sullivan_main
FIGHTING BACK Ray Sullivan of Marriage Equality Rhode Island.

THE MESSAGE

Fight Back New York built campaigns around whatever issues would lead to victory — and gay marriage was not one of them.

A mailer targeting Queens Senator Hiram Monserrate featured a New York Post headline, "Trial Video Shows Senator Pulling Bloody, Screaming Gal," splashed across a series of still images from the video. Another asked, "Why would Sen. Bill Stachowski vote against mammograms for women?"

Sullivan, though, suggests Fight Back Rhode Island will take a different tack, putting same-sex marriage at the center of its messaging. And the approach, he insists, can work: with polls showing a majority of Rhode Islanders in support of gay nuptials, he says, anti-same sex marriage incumbents can be made to look "out of touch."

But as Sullivan himself acknowledges, the economy will be the dominant issue in the coming campaign. And pro-gay marriage candidates, it seems, have decided to concentrate foursquare on the economy.

"I think our focus has to be on jobs, job creation," says Laura Ann Pisaturo, a lesbian lawyer challenging McCaffrey, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman opposed to gay marriage, in a closely watched Democratic primary.

Advocates believe that the two approaches working in tandem — their push to mobilize gay marriage supporters paired with candidates' job-creation efforts — can put favored pols over the top.

Other than Pisaturo, advocates are a little cagey about which candidates they will be pushing hardest to elect. But a few races stand out as opportunities for pick-ups.

Two-term Democratic Senator Michael Pinga of West Warwick, a gay marriage opponent who won a close primary fight in 2010, is facing energetic same-sex nuptials supporter Adam Satchell in the primary.

Republican Senator Bethany Moura, a same-sex marriage opponent who represents Cumberland and Lincoln, faces a likely rematch with Democrat Ryan Pearson, a gay nuptials proponent she edged by just 343 votes last time.

And freshman Senator Glenford Shibley, a Coventry Republican opposed to gay nuptials, will have to run his first re-election campaign during a presidential tilt sure to drive Democrats to the polls in large numbers.

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