Opinion: Why Oberweis Is Pivoting on Gay Marriage | NBC Chicago
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Opinion: Why Oberweis Is Pivoting on Gay Marriage

The GOP senator candidate has nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

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    In a stunning turnaround, Jim Oberweis has revealed that he would support a federal law for gay marriage though he'd rather states have the final say on the issue.

    Previously the Republican state senator voted against legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois, so this apparent evolution in his mindset comes as a surprise—or does it? Consider where Oberweis made the statement: Onstage during his first official debate against Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, whom he's trying to knock out of office despite insurmountable odds. Durbin, by all accounts, will easily win a fourth term in the Senate on Election Day Nov. 4; he's out-fundraised the Sugar Grove dairy mogul by the millions, and bull-dozed him in a recent pseudo-debate at the Chicago Tribune's editorial board.

    Oberweis dropped his gay marriage bombshell while the candidates sparred on the subject Wednesday night, saying recent court decisions paved the path for legalization in several states and he'd now back a federal law.

    "Time has passed and I believe courts have said that that is the law and I will uphold the law of the land," declared Oberweis, later refusing to elaborate when reporters noted afterward that, no, there's actually not a federal law authorizing marriage equality across the nation.

    Durbin, who has sought to link Oberweis to the tea party, said gay marriage should be legal in each state and on the federal level, too.

    Given his dire circumstances—the election is right around the corner and he's got nothing to lose—Oberweis may have thought that a high-profile, media-attracting debate was be a pretty good time to steal some shine from Durbin and announce his pivot on the subject.

    It perhaps had less to do with personal philosophy than with politics: After all, Republicans in 2014 are trying to shake off a negative view of the party as backwards and out of touch, especially on wedge social issues like gay marriage that are gaining a gradual cultural acceptance; making such a last-ditch declaration is a way to get Oberweis attention at a crucial moment and re-spin him as closer to a fiscally conservative, socially moderate brand of Republican. But that spin will only go so far, since Oberweis is forever tainted by that tone-deaf, anti-immigration ad from his previous failed Senate bid circa 2004.

    His fellow Illinois Republican, 10th-district congressional candidate Bob Dold, is hogging much of the national GOP's resources, in addition to gobs of outside money from super PACS and deep-pocketed donors like billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Dold's district, up in Chicago's tony, Democratic-leaning northern suburbs, is a battleground and the outcome a toss-up. The Kenilworth businessman has moved to present himself as a political independent who is both—here we go again—fiscally conservative and socially moderate. He's been endorsed in a TV ad by like-minded Sen. Mark Kirk, a well regarded Republican centrist and Durbin ally serving the 10th, who's shied away from publicly campaigning for Oberweis.

    Kirk was the second GOP senator to back gay marriage, with Dold coming around to change his mind ahead of its 2013 legalization in this state.

    As he prepares to lose another senatorial campaign, Oberweis' flip-flopping can be viewed in several lights: A) A desperate attempt to rebrand (and rehab) his image in the vein of Kirk, Dold and other establishment GOP-ers; B) A noble, if not seemingly genuine, effort to propel forward on a popular and important civil rights issue; C) A cynical strategy to get on the good sides of GOP voters for whom the "tea party" is tantamount to  "Voldemort"; or D) All of the above.

    Asked whether he intended to run against Kirk in 2016, Oberweis quipped recently: "I'm going to win in 2014, so I don't even have to think about that."

    It's precisely that kind of outsized confidence that could beckon the ambitious "Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride" state lawmaker back for round four after three losing bids. Maybe he'll give away more ice cream next time.