Earlier this month, Dan Innis announced his candidacy for the congressional seat held by embattled Republican Frank Guinta. If he wins, Innis could become the nation’s first openly gay Republican elected to Congress.
Innis says for fellow New Hampshire Republicans, being gay hasn't been a problem. It’s his liberal and gay friends who have had the strongest reaction -- to his political affiliation.
“A couple of them were mad at me,” he says.
Indeed, in New Hampshire, some of the people most conflicted about the idea of a gay Republican -- are gay people.
Innis isn't exactly new to politics. Last November, he lost the Republican primary to Guinta by 8 percent of the vote. It was a tough race for him; Guinta had held the seat before. But much has changed for Guinta since Election Day last year. Six months later, the feds fined him for accepting several illegal campaign donations from his parents years before.
Innis says, things changed for him, as well: “People came to me and said, 'OK, you need to get back in there and do this.'"
Innis has never held office. He is the former dean of UNH's business school and still teaches marketing there. He and his husband have also bought and sold two hotels in downtown Portsmouth.
Recently engaged Monica Dorley and Jen Scumaci also live in Portsmouth. Both are conflicted by the idea of a gay Republican.
“You said he was a gay Republican," Dorley says, “and that just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. It sounds like you made that up.”
Her girlfriend Scumaci agrees. “I think my gut reaction is" Republican, conservative, not for me.” Scumaci says conservatives have marginalized many people for many years.
But for Scumaci, it’s not so cut and dried. “I think it’s cool to see someone like Dan Innis,” she says, “to me that’s the kind of thing that helps change, you know, break down some of that [marginalization.]”
She says it’s hypocritical for gay folks to put anyone in a box. “We all should get to believe what we want to believe,” she says.
To this, Innis, would probably say “thank you.” What he wants to talk about, after all, is the economy.
“I am an absolute fiscal conservative. I believe in states' rights,” says Innis. “I think too much power has been consolidated in the federal government.”
Innis says he was that kid in high school who couldn't wait for economics class. Free markets are his comfort zone. Get him on social issues, and things get a little less comfy. Ask him if gay marriage is a civil right, and he says “Of course.” Asked if this civil right should be enforced federally, and he's less definitive: “I’m a state’s rights guy so this is a tough question for me.”
Something similar happens when you ask him about abortion.
“You could consider me pro-choice,” he begins, then adds “I’m personally opposed to abortion, it’s not something that I…,” before settling on “well… it’s hard for me to say.”
Ultimately, Innis says, he would support a 20-week ban on abortion, and says he’d like to see the federal government “provide resources to help women make the right choices in their own personal lives.”
Although Innis is no longer the dean of UNH's business school, he does still teach marketing classes there.
During a recent lecture on corporate branding, Students tried to name “rugged” brands, like Timberland, and “sophisticated” brands, like Christian Dior. Then, Innis asked students:
“What's a sincere brand?”
That’s a good question for Innis’ campaign.
As former state GOP chair Wayne MacDonald mentioned, there's a rumor among some New Hampshire Republicans that Innis only joined the party in 2012. It's not true, but it does have a certain logic, considering Innis' moderate social views and the GOP's legacy with gay rights. Still, MacDonald says, “given the race that Mr. Innis ran in the last election in the primary. . . I think it would be fair to say that an Innis candidacy, an Innis nomination, an Innis election is a definite possibility.”