Democratic gay-marriage pool update: Freshmen Joe Donnelly and Heidi Heitkamp suddenly pro-SSM

I was so sure there wouldn’t be another Democratic flip anytime soon after Bill Nelson that I didn’t offer a guess from that party in the last pool thread. There were only six left in the caucus who hadn’t switched yet: Joe Manchin, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Tim Johnson, Joe Donnelly, and Heidi Heitkamp. The first three come from very conservative states, Johnson is retiring and has nothing to lose by holding out, and Donnelly and Heitkamp just got elected to their first terms. You’re not going to see a frosh instantly reverse himself on a hot-button social issue three months after being sworn in. The cynicism would be overwhelming, tantamount to a confession that he/she lied nakedly to voters in order to get elected rather than gradually “evolving” over time. Obama half-heartedly kept up the charade about his true beliefs for more than three years as president so that he could pretend he was thinkin’ real hard about this issue. There’s no such pretense in a flip by Donnelly and Heitkamp. You don’t “evolve” from November to April when the subject’s been a national political football for nearly 10 years.

And yet, here we are. Donnelly’s statement:

“In recent years, our country has been involved in an important discussion on the issue of marriage equality. While serving in the House of Representatives, I had the opportunity to act on a core belief of mine: we are a stronger country when we draw on the strengths of all Americans. I voted to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and was an original supporter of the bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace because of their sexual orientation. It is also for that reason that I oppose amending either Indiana’s or our nation’s constitution to enshrine in those documents an ‘us’ and a ‘them,’ instead of a ‘we.’ With the recent Supreme Court arguments and accompanying public discussion of same-sex marriage, I have been thinking about my past positions and votes. In doing so, I have concluded that the right thing to do is to support marriage equality for all.”

When Obama declared his support for SSM last May, Donnelly politely disagreed. As for Heitkamp:

Today, Senator Heidi Heitkamp released the following statement regarding her position on marriage equality:

“In speaking with North Dakotans from every corner of our great state, and much personal reflection, I have concluded the federal government should no longer discriminate against people who want to make lifelong, loving commitments to each other or interfere in personal, private, and intimate relationships. I view the ability of anyone to marry as a logical extension of this belief. The makeup of families is changing, but the importance of family is enduring.”

She was cagier about her views on gay marriage during last year’s race but if she wasn’t officially anti back then, today’s announcement wouldn’t be news. I like Dave Weigel’s spin on this:

The timing does show coordination — the announcements were roughly five minutes apart — but I assume that has more to do with Donnelly and Heitkamp seeing strength in numbers than wanting to move the spotlight off of jobs. If the White House was thinking of using SSM declarations to distract from unemployment, they would have called up Nelson, Mark Warner, Kay Hagan and the rest of the recent converts and asked them to hold off until this morning. I think D and H took the plunge together so that neither of them would have to face the “freshman Dem lied his/her ass off to dupe social cons” fire individually. Since there’s coordination involved, I’m going to credit anyone who picked either Donnelly or Heitkamp as the next to switch in the last pool. Congrats to Mary Sue and alchemist19, who’s celebrating a second pool win in the past week.

Exit question: What do these two flips do to the remaining four Democratic holdouts? Weigel notes a Nate Silver post that shows West Virginia and South Dakota, where Manchin and Johnson are from, respectively, aren’t on pace to flip towards supporting gay marriage for four or five years at least. Arkansas and Louisiana, the home states of Pryor and Landrieu, might take even longer than that. But now that you’re down to this core group, media/liberal scrutiny of them will be intense. There’s no crowd left to hide in, which is probably another reason Donnelly and Heitkamp took the plunge together. Neither one of them wanted to deal with the endless “when are you going to ‘evolve’?” questions from reporters that the other holdouts will now face. I think Johnson is next since he doesn’t have to worry about reelection (his son, who might run to replace him, will end up disagreeing with dad’s position, natch). Do the other three hold out even after that? Or do they flip as a peace offering to national liberals, knowing that they’re going to irritate them soon by voting with the right on gun control? That’s another reason Donnelly and Heitkamp switched, I assume — it buys them a little extra leeway to side with the NRA against Obama.