WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama delighted his liberal base by coming down on the side of gay marriage, but he cheered the opposition, too.
Republican activists now want to use Obama's stance on the issue — public opinion is about evenly split — to paint the president as a flip-flopper and to boost Mitt Romney's image in the eyes of conservatives who are still warming to him.
Yet, across the Republican Party, from leaders to activists interviewed since Obama's announcement, there's been wide agreement to use the gay marriage issue selectively — in battleground states that have banned gay marriage, for example— and keep the GOP's national political focus on Obama's stewardship of the economy.
"I'm going to stay focused on jobs, thanks," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said repeatedly when asked about Obama's announcement on gay marriage. "The president can talk about it all he wants. I'm going to stay focused on what the American people want us to stay focused on."
Romney is taking a similar approach, avoiding any discussion of the issue unless he's questioned about it and focusing on the economy.
"It's hard right now. It's real tough," he said Friday in Charlotte, N.C. "It's because of the wrong policies. The right policies are going to put America back to work and make us the economic powerhouse we've always been."
While Republican activists acknowledge that the economy is the top concern for voters, they also see the night-and-day contrast between Obama and Romney on gay marriage as being too good not to exploit at the right times, in the right places. On questions of whether Romney's sufficiently conservative, for example. Or on the subject of consistency.
Particularly appealing, some activists said, was the White House's notion that Obama's "evolution" on the issue is somehow different from flip-flopping.
"This is one situation where Obama looks like the flip-flopper and Romney looks consistent," said Ralph Reed, president of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative, grass-roots advocacy group. "So much for the notion that Romney's the one with no core."
Romney has taken heat from Democrats and some Republicans for changing his position on some issues, such as abortion. But the former Massachusetts governor has not done so on gay marriage. He has been consistent in saying he believes marriage is between a man and a woman.
Obama held an identical position through his 2008 election, but he said in late 2010 that his views were "constantly evolving." Feeling pressured by events this week, Obama announced his new position Wednesday.