By Michael Dresser
Sometimes, a kiss is more than just a kiss.
State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Democratic candidate for Maryland governor, has launched a television ad in which a kiss between him and his husband is portrayed as a statement of defiance against President Donald J. Trump. A leading gay rights organization says it is the first-ever kiss of a same-sex married couple in a U.S. political ad.
By late Thursday, the ad and the media coverage it spawned had gone viral. After the ad's content was reported by The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, the story was picked up by dozens of organizations, including USA Today, CBS News and The Daily Beast.
The openly gay former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, president of the LGBT Victory Fund, said the ad is a sign of changing times.
Richard Madaleno's "Take That, Trump" campaign ad.
"I kissed my spouse on stage at my inauguration as mayor," she said. "But I don't think I would have put it in a campaign eight years ago."
Madaleno, an underdog in the June 26 Democratic primary to nominate a challenger to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, is running the ad on cable television in Montgomery County, where it is certain to be seen by many Democratic voters. But the candidate also placed it during commercial breaks on the staunchly conservative "Fox & Friends" show in the Washington market Thursday morning, where his campaign was hoping it would be seen by one Republican in particular.
The theme of the ad is "Take that, Trump." It focuses on the actions Madaleno has taken in his General Assembly career that would offend Trump. It portrays him not just as an opponent of the president, but the most effective anti-Trump candidate in the race.
There is no mention of Hogan in the ad. Spokesman Scott Sloofman said the Hogan campaign had no comment.
The 30-second spot opens with the Montgomery County lawmaker sitting on the stoop of a red brick house, telling viewers he's running for governor "to deliver progressive results and stand up to Donald Trump. Here are a few of the things I've done that already infuriate him."
The scene shifts to Madaleno standing with a group of children holding signs:
"I protected Planned Parenthood from the Republicans in Congress," he says.
"Take that, Trump," a girl says.
The scene shifts to the candidate with a new group of children holding pro-gun control signs:
"I helped ban assault guns in Maryland," he says.
"Take that, NRA," a young boy says.
The ad moves to Madaleno with a third group of children.
"I believe in public schools, not vouchers," he says.
"Take that, Trump," a girl says. "And Betsy DeVos," a boy chimes in. The kids cheer.
Finally, Madaleno sits with his husband, Mark Hodge, and their two adopted children.
"And what's the No. 1 way I piss off Donald Trump and the Republicans?" Madaleno asks. He and Hodge then kiss briefly.
"Take that, Trump," Madaleno says.
Parker said her organization believes the ad is a first. She said it's important that gay candidates be able to present themselves in family situations just as straight politicians have long done.
"This is going to be an increasingly common sight," the former Houston mayor said. "Get used to it."
National political consultant Dan Furmansky, former director of Equality Maryland, said he's not surprised that Madaleno would run such an ad.
"Rich has always been a trailblazer," he said. Furmansky noted that Madaleno was the first openly gay candidate to be elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 2002 and that he is the state's only openly gay state senator.
Furmansky, a supporter, doubts primary voters will be put off.
"I think voters like people who are authentic and proud of who they are," he said.
Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College, said the ad makes sense for the relatively low-budget Madaleno campaign because media outlets will help to spread the message.
"It's going to get a considerable amount of coverage," he said. "Any time you cut an ad and it gets linked without you having to pay for it is good strategy. ... You can maximize the exposure and minimize the expense."
Eberly said the ad is unlikely to backfire.
"We're definitely at a point in 2018 where among the Democratic Party base, this is not something that would turn them off," he said.
The Madaleno campaign was hoping that Trump himself would view the kiss when he turned on Fox News.
"We wanted to make sure the president had an opportunity to see this ad, and went with the network he tunes into," said Keith Presley, Madaleno's campaign manager.
Madaleno said the campaign might run the ad on "Fox & Friends" again. If that happens, there is the possibility that if Trump sees the ad, it could set off one of his famous tweet storms.
"Absolutely, that could happen," Eberly said. "If it happens, it's just that much more free advertising."
(c)2018 The Baltimore Sun