That Christian conservatives overwhelmingly support White House hopeful Ben Carson shouldn’t surprise anyone — he's been critical of same-sex marriage and once said equating LGBT rights to civil rights "irritated" him.
And neither, campaign manager Barry Bennett maintains, should Bennett’s ongoing relationship with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activist and business partner Mary Cheney.
“Mary is my friend. … I care a great deal for her,” Bennett told CQ Roll Call about his connection to the out-and-proud-of-it political scion.
A former Hill staffer turned GOP strategist, Bennett is currently riding Carson's wave of popularity that’s propelled the neurosurgeon cum anti-establishment pol to top-tier status among the crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls.
According to the likely GOP caucus-goers who over the weekend weighed in on the remaining crop of contenders, two of the most attractive things about Carson are that “he approaches things with common sense” (70 percent responded affirmatively) and “he has said he would be guided by his faith in God” (62 percent).
Bennett brings a lifetime of seasoning to Carson's team.
He and Cheney have operated in the same circles for years now; they were both, at one time, affiliated with BKM Strategies, and remain partners in the Vox Populi Polling firm. Bennett was also involved in the short-lived Cowboy PAC , a fundraising contingent that threw in with Cheney’s older sister Liz’s unsuccessful bid to unseat Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., during the previous cycle.
Liz’s hard-line stance against gay marriage forced the Cheney clan to choose sides. Although he went on record in support of gay marriage as early as 2009, former Vice President Dick Cheney in 2013 threw his support behind the struggling candidate while Mary Cheney’s spouse, Heather Poe, unloaded about the family schism on social media.
“Liz has been a guest in our home, has spent time and shared holidays with our children, and when Mary and I got married in 2012 — she didn’t hesitate to tells us how happy she was for us. To have her now say she doesn’t support our right to marry is offensive to say the least,” Poe bemoaned in fall 2013 on Facebook.
Mary Cheney did not respond to requests for comment about her links to Bennett. But earlier this summer she penned an open letter to fellow Republicans calling for a reevaluation of the party line.
“The next time a Republican presidential candidate wants to talk about the need for our society to support and protect families and children, I hope he or she will include all families and all children in that protection — including the hundreds of thousands of children like my son and daughter who are growing up with same-sex parents,” she expressed via Fox News in anticipation of the high court’s subsequent ruling affirming the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.
When talk show host Glenn Beck asked Carson on Oct. 21 to identify the worst Supreme Court decision in recent history, Carson commented, “Probably, I would say, the gay marriage decision.” He voiced similar opposition when the ruling was first handed down, but later conceded that it is now “the law of the land.”
The backpedal did little to assuage the Human Rights Campaign, which is closely monitoring Carson’s publicly expressed thoughts — including the assertion that prison culture illustrates that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice — on LGBT rights.
Per Bennett, divorcing his personal views from Carson’s political platform comes with the territory.
“I don't get paid to express my opinions, I get paid to help Dr. Carson get elected. I support him 100 percent,” he stressed, adding, “Sorry, no conflict here.”
Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory Angelo seems to agree.
“The real story isn't that one of Mary Cheney's frequent collaborators actively supports Dr. Ben Carson; it's that Dr. Ben Carson seemingly has no problem hiring a campaign manager with close ties to one of the most prominent out, gay Republican women in the country,” Angelo said.
By Angelo’s estimation, Carson is more “misinformed than hostile” on the LGBT front.
“I wouldn't say Dr. Carson is running to advance LGBT issues, but he's certainly not making a priority out of opposing them,” he posited.
Furthermore, he brushed aside hypotheticals about whether Bennett’s business dealings might one day blow up in Carson’s face.
“In any campaign, there should only be one person who counts: the candidate themselves,” Angelo said.
Stacey Long Simmons, director of Public Policy & Government Affairs at the National LGBTQ Task Force, declined to call out any candidates in particular — opting, instead, to challenge those vying for the Oval Office to surround themselves with open-minded individuals.
“We fervently hope that all of the presidential candidates will focus on achieving employment protections; economic equity; ending anti-LGBTQ violence and other critical concerns of LGBTQ voters and that their staffing decisions will not contradict these principles,” she told CQ Roll Call in an email.
Related: Poll: House Incumbents Who Oppose LGBT Rights Lose Support GOP Mixes, (Briefly) Mingles with Log Cabin Republicans Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.