Commentary

How Republicans Carried Maryland’s Question 6 to Victory: Fresh Evidence

Last week I observed that Question 6, the same-sex marriage law, had racked up strong vote totals in many Republican areas of Maryland and even carried two big GOP-leaning counties. When I wrote that piece I was working from broad county-level election returns. Now that I’ve had a chance to dig into the precinct-level returns, I can report that the story is bigger than I had realized. From the county numbers we knew that many Romney voters in Maryland must have crossed over to support same-sex marriage; now it turns out that Question 6 actually carried many of the state’s best-known GOP strongholds. Republicans voted for Question 6 in serious numbers around all the state’s major centers of population: in the Baltimore and Annapolis areas, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and in Frederick. And while the trend showed itself everywhere from small farm towns to blue-collar suburbs, it appears to have been strongest in the best-educated and most economically successful Republican communities.

Consider the beautiful country north of Baltimore’s Beltway, one of the nation’s choicest places to live, dotted with executive suburbs that furnish a key source of votes for any Republican running statewide in Maryland. In most of these towns, Obama got clobbered last week while Question 6 passed by a comfortable margin, often with a swing of upwards of 20 points from the one to the other. In charming Ruxton, for example, Obama polled a mere 38 percent of the vote at the Ridge Ruxton School, while 63 percent of voters went for same-sex marriage, a 25-point defection from the state GOP’s officially recommended position. The story was not much different at nearby Riderwood (39 percent for Obama, 59 percent for Question 6) or at Hunt Valley, which had a 28-point swing (37 percent for Obama, 65 percent for Question 6). Over in a leafy section of Owings Mills with a substantial Jewish population, the Democratic vote was stronger but the result no different: 48 percent for Obama, 76 percent for Question 6. In one of the few precincts in this belt that Obama actually carried, at Fort Garrison Elementary School in Pikesville, Romney was held to a 45-percent share while the vote against Question 6 was a mere 20 percent — which makes it a mathematical certainty that more than half of Romney’s voters there crossed over to vote for same-sex marriage.

Perhaps there’s something special about the Baltimore suburbs? It doesn’t seem so. In Frederick County the commuter-oriented southeastern portion of the county gave Romney an easy win and then split many a ballot in favor of Question 6. (My own precinct, New Market Middle, went 38 percent for President Obama and 53 percent for same-sex marriage.) Similar swings were common in nearby Carroll County, where Romney won 2 to 1. Likewise in Annapolis, both in GOP-leaning in-town precincts and in various outlying areas. While Washington, D.C.’s Maryland suburbs are overwhelmingly Democratic, Question 6 still significantly outpolled President Obama over much of the expensive-home belt of Chevy Chase, Bethesda and Potomac, suggesting that it was getting many Republican votes there.

Asked to name the state’s archetypal Republican town, a longtime observer of Maryland politics might pick Severna Park, a pleasant community north of Annapolis where many Republican political figures choose to make their homes. It is also the base of former Rep. Marjorie Holt, among the state’s few truly successful conservative political figures in the past half-century, who served in Congress through much of the 1970s and 1980s and is still revered at age 92. No one would confuse Severna Park with Democratic turf: Obama captured a paltry 39 percent of the vote in its 13 precincts. Meanwhile, same-sex marriage was coasting to victory with 54 percent.

One ought not to exaggerate the contrast between these commuter/executive towns, with their image of golden retrievers, ski racks on the car and great school systems, and places where more everyday Republican voters live. The fact is that across almost all of Maryland’s major population areas, ordinary GOP voters were defying the party line in the same way, if not in as remarkable a number. In working-class Republican neighborhoods like Essex (outside Baltimore), in small towns and farming communities across Frederick and northern Carroll counties, in southern-tinged Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties south of D.C. along Chesapeake Bay, Question 6 tended to run 4 to 8 points stronger than Obama. In fact, to find more than a handful of Republican precincts where same-sex marriage actually ran behind the president, you need to look to the state’s deeply rural areas, on the Eastern Shore and out past Hagerstown in far western Maryland.

This spring, President Obama famously announced that his views on same-sex marriage had evolved. Faster than almost anyone seems to have predicted, views appear to be evolving among educated Republican voters in states like Maryland, as well. When will the leadership of the GOP get around to evolving, too?

Walter Olson is senior fellow at the Cato Institute and edits Overlawyered, which has long covered Prop 65.