WASHINGTON — The national board of Log Cabin Republicans, the gay political group that tried unsuccessfully to get a "big tent" unity plank in the GOP platform last week, voted Tuesday to withhold its endorsement of President Bush.
The 25-member board made the decision on a 22-2 vote.
The organization, with 12,000 members nationwide, said it would instead devote its financial and political resources to elect "fair-minded Republican allies to local, state and federal offices."
It also plans to endorse various Republican candidates for the House and Senate.
And it is hiring a California director and plans a big push for the reelection of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, if he chooses to run.
"There is a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party," said Patrick Guerriero, the group's executive director. "That fight is bigger than one platform, one convention or even one president."
Terry Holt, a spokesman for Bush's reelection campaign, responded to the group's decision by saying, "I won't speculate on their actions. I can say: Republicans are united behind the president."
An estimated 1 million gay Americans voted for Bush in 2000, according to exit polling of voters on election day. Some demographers believe that if Bush loses any of this support because of his backing of a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage, it could hurt the president's chances in November of winning several battleground states -- Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Washington.
Exit polling found in the 2000 election that 45,000 gay voters cast ballots for Bush in Florida, which he carried by 537 votes.
"On the national level, President Bush's support for the Federal Marriage Amendment could gain him votes with [the Republican] base," said Gary J. Gates, a researcher for the Urban Institute think tank in Washington and author of "The Gay & Lesbian Atlas," a primer on gay geographic and demographic trends.
But Gates added, "If all the votes Bush gains are in the 'red' zone [of solid Republican states] and he loses enough in the swing states, that could potentially provide a bonus" for his Democratic challenger, Sen. John F. Kerry.
The Log Cabin group, which said it supported Bush's handling of the war on terrorism and his economic policies, had endorsed every GOP presidential candidate for president since opening a national office in Washington in 1993.
The first GOP presidential candidate to win the group's endorsement was Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas in 1996, even though his campaign returned the group's $1,000 contribution. Dole later called that action a mistake.
In 2000, the organization met with Bush at the GOP convention in Philadelphia and cited three conditions for its support: that, as president, he keep in place President Clinton's executive order against discrimination against gays in federal agencies; that he appoint openly gay officials to his administration; and that he continue a dialogue with gays and lesbians.
Bush agreed to those requests as he ran as a candidate embracing a "compassionate conservative" platform.
But early this year, as same-sex couples flocked to San Francisco to be married when the city decreed such unions legal, Bush endorsed the proposed constitutional amendment that defined marriage as solely between a man and a woman.
The proposed amendment delighted evangelicals and social conservatives but offended gays and others who objected to using the Constitution to prohibit individual rights.
"A constitutional amendment is a call to arms," Guerriero said. "We don't want history to record that we stood silent when our president and our party tried to write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution."
In the spring, the organization launched its first advertising campaign, spending $1 million on ads aired in battleground states that featured Vice President Dick Cheney -- whose daughter Mary is a lesbian -- saying, "I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area."
After the proposed amendment was derailed in the Senate in July, the Log Cabin group turned its attention to urging Republican leaders to adopt a unity plank to soften the party platform's opposition to abortion rights and support for a ban on same-sex marriages.
The unity plank would have noted that "Republicans of good faith" disagreed with those positions.
The plank was rejected. So was a second request to delete language that called homosexuality "incompatible with military service."
The Log Cabin group recently sponsored a new set of ads. They quote President Reagan as saying he hoped he appealed to voters' "best hopes, not your worst fears," and asking GOP delegates to become the party of "hope, not fear."