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Gay rights groups on Monday coupled behind-the-scenes lobbying with the more unconventional tactic of enlisting pop star Lady Gaga to press moderate GOP Senators to support a repeal of the militarys dont ask, dont tell policy.
The activists view todays scheduled Senate vote to open debate on the defense authorization bill which includes the repeal as their best hope to end the ban on openly gay service members. The likelihood that Republicans will pick up seats in both chambers in the midterm elections could make passage of the repeal much more difficult in the next Congress.
Its the eleventh hour, and we are on the one-yard line, said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign.
He said the HRC and its allies have asked some of their most influential supporters to call their Senators.
HRC President Joe Solmonese is expected to appear today with Democratic leaders, including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (Mich.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), to discuss the vote.
Levin acknowledged Monday that he still was looking for the 60 votes needed to move the bill. Democrats and groups that support repeal have targeted a handful of moderate Republicans, particularly Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Collins, in particular, has been the focus of their attention because she supported the repeal when it came up in the Armed Services Committee.
However, on Monday, the offices of both Senators issued statements that suggested they were unlikely to vote to proceed with the legislation.
The activists are also focusing on a handful of other Republicans, including retiring Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) and Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.).
In an interesting twist, DADT opponents hold out some hope that they can win over Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who recently lost her GOP primary bid to tea-party-backed candidate Joe Miller.
A gay rights official said Murkowski might be so angry at her partys leaders that she would cross them on the procedural vote on the defense measure.
While Murkowskis vote may be a long shot, the DADT effort is drawing more than the usual cast of Washington lobbyists.
To nudge the Maine Senators, Lady Gaga, the colorful performer who has spoken out and tweeted frequently on the issue, headlined a rally Monday in the states largest city, Portland.
The event was sponsored by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which was created to help gay military members fight the policy.