For those wanting to understand why the political deliberation over gay marriage is such a sensitive subject for this White House, look no further than the fact that it splits the two core constituencies that make up President Obama's base: college-aged voters and African-Americans.
Young voters are the driving force behind making gay marriage politically acceptable. But black voters, despite their overwhelming support for the president, are among the leading opponents of gay marriage.
Both groups turned out at historic levels in 2008, helping propel Obama to victory in states like Virginia and North Carolina. The president's re-election team is depending on similarly high turnout, especially among black voters, to make up for their weaknesses winning over non-college educated white voters. Indeed, the very reason they believe those Southern states are in play are directly related to expected high turnout among these demographic groups.
In 2008, African-American voters made up 20 percent of the state's electorate, and voters between the ages of 18-29 made up 21 percent of the statewide vote. Fast-forward just one year later to the closely-contested gubernatorial race, and African-Americans dropped to 15 percent of the electorate, with 18-29 year olds making up just 10 percent. Team Obama needs the numbers to be much closer to the 2008 figures to win the Old Dominion again.
Now look at the latest Quinnipiac poll in Virginia, released this week. Against Mitt Romney, Obama wins only 36 percent of white voters in the state -- a weak showing. But thanks to 95 percent support among black voters, Obama leads in the general election matchup, 50 to 42 percent. But that's dependent on minority turnout being close to the ideal Obama scenario; any leveling off would make it more challenging for the president to carry the state again.
And that's where the gay marriage debate gets awfully tricky for the president's political advisers.