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How Proposition 8 was won -- and lost

November 6, 2008 |  4:04 am

The Obama victory was tempered in certain circles of California by the victory of Proposition 8 -- an outcome that seemed to genuinely shock many opponents. How did the Yes on 8 crowd win the day? Political experts told The Times' Dan Morain a lot had to do with a simple, clear message that hit with a broad cross-section of voters:

San Francisco mayor Gavin NewsomThey were able to focus the debate on their assertion that without the ban, public school children would be indoctrinated into accepting gay marriage against their parents' wishes, churches would be sanctioned for not performing same-sex weddings, and the institution of marriage would be irreparably harmed. Supporters of gay marriage, along with political leaders including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-San Francisco) and the state's superintendent of public instruction, denounced those messages as scare tactics, but they were not able to sway voters. Preliminary returns showed Proposition 8 passing 52% to 48%. "It was masterful of the campaign to raise the implications of what it could mean in terms of the school system," said Republican political consultant Wayne Johnson. He said voters may have started out "thinking that as long as it doesn't affect me, do what you want," but the supporters shifted the focus to children.

Phil Bronstein says one statement by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom gave the Yes on 8 team a great weapon:

Gavin Newsom screwed it up. Voters are the ones who make the decision but no one person handed the Yes on 8 campaign a more persuasive and compelling sound bite than our own mayor. Even if there were other flaws in the anti-8 operation, he was unquestionably the poster child for the pro-8 push, whether you like it or not. And unlike Willie Brown, whose 70s high afro and muttonchop sideburn photo got used as a thinly disguised racial scare tactic in the 80s by some Republican candidates for the State legislature (nothing he could do about it), Mr. Newsom willingly and imperiously handed over the ammunition in yesterday's election.

--Shelby Grad

Photo of Gavin Newsom: Associated Press