In fact, gay-marriage advocates fear that vote-flippers might chicken out — even during the roll call — if the margin looks too close. Among legislators, there is a “widespread belief,” in the words of one, that the vote will be postponed unless gay-marriage supporters feel confident that the yes votes are “significantly below 50.” That probably means 45 or 46 at most; even a whip count of 48 or 49 would be too dicey to risk a vote, says this representative, who shares the view that Murray will probably end up postponing next Friday’s scheduled vote.
To keep public attention from scuttling private deal-making, and to avoid tipping their hand to the opposition, Solomon and others lobbying on the issue are keeping the status of negotiations, and the identities of the targeted legislators, top-secret.
Some can be gleaned from lobbyists’ activity. This past week’s pro-gay-marriage rally in Quincy, for example, was not-too-subtly located in the hometown of three Democrats who voted for the amendment in January, but are thought to be swayable: Senator Michael Morrissey, and representatives Bruce Ayers and Stephen Tobin. Another event that weekend in Weymouth was meant to catch the eye of Democratic representative James Murphy and Republican senator Robert Hedlund.
But only a very, very small circle is privy to the precise whip count. Leading the effort for gay-marriage proponents hoping to kill the amendment are Byron Rushing in the House and Stanley Rosenberg in the Senate. They are using a few select staffers to hold discussions and deliver instructions. Beyond the Speaker of the House and the Senate president, they are even keeping their colleagues in the dark about who is being targeted, who may have agreed to change their vote, or even where the current whip count stands.
Some have recently suggested that as many as four votes have been gained out of the eight needed, but others warn that votes may also have gone in the other direction.
In fact, even the leading Democrats might not know exactly where things stand. There is conjecture that Republicans Richard Tisei and Brad Jones, minority leaders in the Senate and House, respectively, both of whom oppose the amendment, may be trying to flip some GOP legislators. Tisei, Jones, and state-party chair Peter Torkildsen are said to fear that a popular vote on gay marriage — joined inevitably by the most rabid homophobes in the country — could set back their efforts to portray the state GOP as moderate on social issues.
Romney plays rummy
The national attention will be even more blinding if Romney happens to be the GOP standard-bearer in 2008.
Which begs the question: where’s Mitt?
Romney has never missed an opportunity to grandstand on this issue — until now. And if his silence holds, it would be the first time Romney failed to at least make it look like he was doing everything he could to halt gay marriage in his home state.
If the legislature votes down the amendment, one can imagine Romney’s conservative opponents asking why he was wasting his time with fancy fundraisers and expensive image consultants while the opportunity to stop gay marriage went down the drain.
That’s why some legislators expect Romney to show up for a last-minute photo-op. And that, paradoxically, just might be the thing that could push the gay-marriage side to victory.
Given the current disdain for Romney among local lawmakers of both parties, the opportunity to embarrass him at this critical juncture in his presidential quest might just compel a necessary few to vote against the amendment. It could, in other words, accomplish what Patrick, Murray, DiMasi, and Coakley so far could not.
On the Web
David S. Bernstein's Talking Politics: http://www.thephoenix.com/talkingpolitics