Make no mistake: President Obama took a significant risk when he decided to come out, publicly, in favor of gay marriage on Wednesday.
Last night's network newscasts and today's newspapers featured anecdotes from African-American and Hispanic supporters upset about the decision, with some threatening to withhold support. Undecided working-class whites may also be all but a lost cause after the president's decision, even as Mitt Romney's privileged background turns them off, too.
But with risk comes reward. The intangible of showing leadership on an issue can provide hidden long-term benefits, as the track record of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie shows. He has used the bully pulpit to urge reforms on state entitlement spending. Initially, it looked like a big-time political loser, given New Jersey's Democratic tilt and significant labor constituency. Ultimately, it was a conservative-base pleaser, but it's paid off beyond the base. Now he's one of the most popular governors in the country.
Gay marriage provides Obama with a similar opportunity. He's coming out ahead on an issue and positioned himself where the public seems to be headed, even if they're not there yet. His base of young voters and college-educated whites is largely behind him, and he needs their support to win. At a time when the president is looking to tout accomplishments, gay rights are an area where he can now proudly plant his flag. And he's putting Romney on the defensive, underscoring his campaign's current message that Romney is stuck in the past.