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Mindful of 30 consecutive losses across the nation, the Minnesota group trying to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage is testing an entirely new strategy that envisions a fierce and unblinking push that lasts from now until Election Day.
While most campaigns quietly build until fall, Minnesotans United for All Families is already fully staffed with 72 paid organizers, thousands of volunteers, eight offices scattered throughout the state and a fevered fundraising operation that has already reeled in $4.6 million.
This unprecedented early summer blitz formally begins this weekend at the Twin Cities Pride festival, a gathering of 300,000 gays, lesbians and supporters who are expected to make up the backbone of the campaign.
"In other states, we've made the mistake of spreading out all of our energy and not having a focused effort," said campaign manager Richard Carlbom. "Minnesota has one chance, we have one chance to beat this thing. And it's going to take all of us working together."
Marriage amendment supporters are working their own battle-tested strategy, quietly. They continue reaching out to churches and producing videos to engage Minnesotans in the conversation. This fall they plan to unleash a torrent of television ads similar to those that swayed voters from California to Maine to North Carolina.
Frank Schubert, campaign manager for pro-amendment Minnesota for Marriage, said he expects his side to have the resources it needs. But, he acknowledges, opponents "have raised a lot of money and we expect they will vastly outspend us at the end of the day." A California political strategist who organized several amendment campaigns, Schubert said that, "We have been given a great blessing to have this conversation and a tremendous amount of time to engage the public."
Leaders of Minnesotans United already are fretting about a late fall advertising blitz by amendment proponents. So rather than sit on a pile of cash through the summer, the campaign has made a strategic gamble to buy $1 million in television advertising during the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 election -- a rarity among perennially cash-starved campaigns.
"Since nobody had started to buy, we could get an incredible rate," Carlbom said.
In churches, homes and on the airwaves, Minnesotans will spent the next five months wrestling with whether to approve the constitutional amendment.
Minnesota law already prohibits same-sex marriage. The amendment would take the prohibition a step further, enshrining the definition of marriage in the state's constitution. Supporters say that would block judges and future Legislatures from tampering with the law and afford the strongest legal protection to traditional, heterosexual marriage.
Igniting a movement
Minnesotans United already has the look and feel of a frantic, late-stage campaign. In coming months, its members hope to ignite 1 million conversations across the state so Minnesotans understand their arguments for how the amendment would hurt the state's gay and lesbian residents.
Amendment opponents have launched two online advertisements. One features Minnesotans talking about what marriage means to them. The other focuses on St. Paul residents Kate Wulf and Marianne Christianson talking about how they believe the amendment would exclude some Minnesotans from being able to marry.
Minnesota United has amassed a long list of supportive business leaders, clergy and top political leaders, many of whom were set to appear at the group's booth over the weekend-long Pride festival. Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison were among those scheduled to appear.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, an early and ardent amendment opponent who will be walking in Sunday's parade, also hosted a first-ever Pride reception that served as a fundraiser for Minnesotans United.
This fight, Dayton said to those at that reception, "is about whether you believe in democracy, whether you believe in differences, whether you believe people should have the right to live their own lives on their own terms the way the good Lord -- or whoever they want to believe in -- made them."
'Committed to winning'
Meanwhile, amendment supporters are meeting with like-minded religious leaders and amassing a volunteer list that numbers 65,000 so far. They're deploying weekly "Marriage Minute" videos to outline their position and take on claims by the other side.
"I've spent 30 years running ballot-issue campaigns," Schubert said, "and I know how to build a coalition of people who wouldn't normally agree on the time of day. It's my goal never to lose. We are committed to winning in Minnesota."
Amendment opponents say they are just as committed to breaking that streak, beginning with this weekend's early campaign launch.
On Saturday morning in Loring Park, 400 Minnesotans United volunteers wearing orange and blue "Vote No" shirts were scattered throughout the Pride festival. Volunteers talked to nearly every attendee, asking them to vote against the amendment, to donate and to talk with friends and relatives about the importance of their vote. Volunteers then slapped a hand-sized "Vote No" sticker on supporters.
Anyone who wanted to help could immediately go to the Minnesotans United headquarters across the street and be trained as a volunteer.
Volunteer Sean Dwyer relentlessly scanned the crowd looking for anyone not wearing a "Vote No" sticker.
"Hold on, hold on, hold on," he said to one couple. "Have you signed up to help?"
The two had stickers on, but shrugged.
"Come on, do it for me. Do it for me," he said.
The couple signed up.
One woman said she didn't have a sticker because she was changing for work in five minutes.
"Five minutes might make all the difference," Dwyer said, slapping a sticker on her shirt.
Baird Helgeson • 651-925-5044