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Joe Biden hailed by gay rights group, but Clinton has head start

Joe Biden hailed by gay rights group, but Clinton has head start
Joe Biden
Joe Biden Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden will have a prime perch to appeal to gay voters when he headlines a glitzy national gala. Yet it may be too late to win over influential gay Democrats already committed to Hillary Rodham Clinton should he join the 2016 presidential race.

At the Human Rights Campaign’s sold-out soirée Oct. 3 in Washington, it’s Biden who will get top billing. In a way, Clinton will be his warm-up act; she’ll speak to the group’s board and staff in the morning, but won’t be on stage for the star-studded dinner.

Gay and lesbian voters and their allies represent a natural base of support for Biden, who won accolades from the community by backing gay marriage ahead of the 2012 election and became the highest elected official to support what was then a highly charged political issue. President Barack Obama followed days later.

The prominent gay rights group hasn’t endorsed yet in the 2016 race, but it plans to be engaged in the primary.

Clinton, too, has a long history on gay rights, and the Human Rights Campaign praised her this week as a “tireless champion” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people across the globe. Clinton’s LGBT supporters point to a 2011 speech she gave as secretary of state fervently declaring that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

As she competes for the Democratic nomination, Clinton has actively courted gay and lesbian voters. She’s featured gay couples in her advertising and raised LGBT issues at town halls.

In turn, Clinton has won financial support from many of the openly gay bundlers who raised huge sums for Obama. In interviews, half a dozen of those supporters insisted none of that support would drift to Biden.

Biden’s tough task in winning over gay Clinton supporters mirrors the broader challenge awaiting him if he enters the race: Half a year into the presidential campaign, many of the Democratic Party’s top players have already placed their bets.

In Congress, Biden supported hate crime and workplace discrimination bills. He also fought legislation by then-Sen. Jesse Helms and others seen as hostile to gay rights.

Gays and lesbians form a powerful voting bloc in the U.S., and exit polls suggest they vote at higher rates than the overall population. An analysis by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law showed that 3 in 4 gay or bisexual voters backed Democrats in 2014.

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