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Posted at 7:23 AM ET, 02/25/2011

Obama Administration's big move on gay marriage is another small step for candidate Obama

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza

Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement Wednesday that the Justice Department would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act sent a sudden and unexpected shockwave through the political landscape.

Here was a president who campaigned in 2008 by saying that he believed marriage was between one man and one woman, and a Justice Department that had just last month said it would continue to fight lawsuits against the 1996 law.

All of a sudden, all bets are off, it seems, and gay rights activists are celebrating.

But is it really all that significant a change for the president?

Holder and the Obama White House have tried to play off the move, saying it was done as a result of a legal review and that the president's position on the Defense of Marriage Act has been consistent.

Even if those two things are true, the move represents a significant move for President Obama politically.

But it's not the first time he's inched toward an embrace of gay marriage.

During the 2008 campaign, Obama said the he supported a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and came out against California's Proposition 8, which sought to ban gay marriage in the Goldent State -- all the while still staying he believed marriage is between a man and a woman.

That, in a lot of ways, is pretty similar to what Obama is doing now. Then, like now, Obama seems to be walking a fine line -- doing supporters of gay marriage a solid without fully embracing their cause.

And for good reason. Despite a public that seems more and more inclined to support gay marriage, the issue remains a tricky one for Obama.

In fact, a look at the polls shows it's difficult for many of the same reasons that the health care bill was difficult: while voters are pretty evenly split in support and opposition, those supporters are generally pretty casual about gay marriage, while opponents are very vocal and willing to fight back.

According to the most recent numbers from Pew, 43 percent of Americans support gay marriage, and 47 percent oppose it. Those numbers, from late last year, are the best numbers in 15 years for gay marriage.

But when you delve a little deeper, you find that only 16 percent of people "strongly favor" gay marriage, while 26 percent "strongly oppose" it. Those strongly opposed include 21 percent of independents and even 20 percent of Democrats -- voters that Obama needs to be able to woo.

Obama, who suggested repeatedly in recent months that he is evolving on the issue of gay marriage, seems to want to help the gay rights community. Another recent example, of course, is his successful recent effort to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays in the military.

Republicans, including potential 2012 presidential candidates, haven't exactly been jumping at the chance to make gay marriage an issue, but if Obama sticks his neck out too much, he risks the wrath of the right. And if the health care battle shows anything, it's that such things are to be avoided.

Jockeying over the budget a draw so far: Americans are divided over which party is doing a better job to combat the current budget problems, according to a new poll.

The Gallup poll shows 42 percent say Republicans are doing a better job, while 39 percent say Obama and the Democrats are doing better.

Some signs are better for Democrats in the battle ahead though. By a margin of 60 percent-to-32 percent, people say they prefer a compromise budget, rather than having one side hold out so long that a government shutdown ensues.

Republicans are pushing for big cuts, which some Democrats charge could lead to a shutdown.

On the other hand, a plurality of Americans -- 48 percent -- say the cuts proposed by Obama and the Democrats don't go far enough, while just 13 percent say they go too far. Just as interesting: a smaller plurality of people say Republican cuts don't go far enough -- 37 percent.

National Journal vote rankings are out: The annual National Journal congressional vote rankings are out, and they show the political middle is struggling.

Overall, the 2010 Congress is the most polarized in the 30 years National Journal has been doing its rankings. There is almost no overlap between conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. Moreover, 56 of the 100 most conservative Democrats left office or lost their seats in the last election, leaving an even more divided group of lawmakers.

It was reported on Wednesday that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), once right in the middle, now ranks among the most conservative. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tied with Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and six others for most liberal senators. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was close behind.

Fixbits:

Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), a potential 2012 Senate candidate, apologized for suggesting supporters of the protests in Wisconsin needed to "get a little bloody" to get what they want.

Pizza magnate Herman Cain (R) has launched a 527 to supplement his presidential exploratory committee.

Retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) won't endorse a succesor yet.

Also not endorsing is Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who joins Gov. Mitch Daniels and Rep. Mike Pence on the sidelines in the new primary matchup between Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

Florida Senate candidate Mike Haridopolos (R), the state's Senate president, will get a letter of admonition -- but no fine -- for failing to accurately file a financial disclosure form.

Missouri GOP Senate candidates Sarah Steelman and Ed Martin have both come out against collective bargaining rights for public sector unions, after Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said she supported those rights.

New York special election candidate Jane Corwin (R) contributed $1,000 to fellow Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava's (R) 2009 special election campaign -- something that may not go over well with conservatives. But Corwin seems to be weathering the storm, and Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long said the donation isn't a big deal.

Must-reads:

"How Chris Christie did his homework" -- Matt Bai, New York Times Magazine

"Union battle in the Midwest a pull for political power" -- Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times

"Why Mike Huckabee probably won't run for president in 2012" -- Linda Feldmann, Christian Science Monitor

In Columbus, conflicted opinions on unions -- Sabrina Tavernese, NYT

By Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza  | February 25, 2011; 7:23 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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