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Court rulings on gay marriage and voting rights make it more difficult for GOP to rebrand itself

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At a glance, one might think that Supreme Court decisions this week on voting rights and gay marriage were good and bad news, respectively, from the Republican point of view.

That perspective takes for granted that the court ruling on the Voting Rights Act was good news for the GOP.  But that’s not necessarily the case.

Beth Reinhard of the National Journal SAYS both court rulings put a “squeeze…on a Republican Party torn between its traditional values and a desire to modernize and expand before the 2014 and 2016 elections.”

Crusading against gay marriage, a timeworn Republican strategy to rally social conservatives, is out of step with polls that show increasing support for gay marriage, particularly among young voters.  The court also put congressional Republicans on the spot by demanding a rewrite of the landmark law protecting minority voting rights, setting up potentially awkward battles with African-American and Hispanic leaders that would reprise the rallying cry in those communities last year over voter ID laws.

“The politics on these issues are changing, and it’s smart to be careful,” said Republican consultant John Feehery, a former adviser to House leadership. “Years ago, gay marriage was something that you were able to rile the base with and it became part of an electoral strategy, but opinion seems to be evolving pretty quickly. The Voting Rights Act is also a combustible issue, and there are risks for getting involved.”

That’s exactly why the Democratic Party is flogging both court rulings. Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Wednesday that the gay marriage ruling “shows how extreme and intolerance House Republicans really are.” Democratic gubernatorial candidates from Barbara Buono in New Jersey to Terry McAuliffe in Virginia also picked fights with their Republican opponents over the court rulings. Gov. “Chris Christie is still blocking marriage equality. He is trying to be more conservative than Rand Paul, Marco Rubio and the rest of the Tea Party,” Buono’s daughter said in a fundraising appeal. Similar requests from Democratic candidates and groups are coming rapid fire this week, calling for checks to fund historic battles for marriage equality and voting rights.

Coupled with ongoing debates over immigration and abortion, the court rulings mark a return to culture wars that could hamstring Republican outreach to women, young voters and minorities in the wake of the 2012 election. Recent skirmishes include a House vote banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, another House vote rejecting President Obama’s policy to halt deportations of illegal immigrants brought here as children, and this week, an explosive filibuster of a bill backed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas to regulate abortion clinics. Democratic attacks portray these efforts to block immigration reform or limit abortion as proof of the GOP’s hostility toward minorities and “war on women.”

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