By most measures, Frank Schubert, the strategist running campaigns in four states against same-sex marriage, ought to be nervous about Maryland.
Multiple polls, including one recently conducted by The Baltimore Sun, show that Maryland voters in increasing numbers approve of gay marriage. Gay-rights advocates have more money, a larger and more sophisticated campaign organization and the backing of most of the state's political elite.
"If we lose this thing, shame on us," Schubert told a group of pastors and community leaders at a strategy session in Prince George's County this week. "If we lose, it is because we didn't do what we had the opportunity to do."
Schubert, 56, a California-based political consultant, has orchestrated victories on a broad array of conservative ballot questions, mostly on the West Coast. But recently, the devout Roman Catholic has chosen to focus exclusively on fighting same-sex marriage laws. His ideas are credited with defeating measures in California, Maine and North Carolina. He also was involved in efforts to unseat three Iowa judges responsible for legalizing same-sex marriage there.
In addition to playing a key role in Maryland, where a same-sex marriage law is Question 6 on the November ballot, Schubert is managing similar campaigns in Maine, Minnesota and Washington state. Opponents of Maryland's law have paid his firm $473,000 for work on the campaign, according to a disclosure report filed Friday. The figure might include the cost of television ads.
In Maryland, Schubert says, he will unroll a sales pitch in coming weeks designed to sow doubt among some who thought they'd made up their minds. The message will suggest that there are unintended, negative results from legalizing same-sex marriage. It has worked every time he's used it, earning devotion from those who agree and disdain and grudging respect from those who don't.
"Frank is a brilliant advertising guy and a brilliant strategist," said Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, the main group opposing same-sex marriage in Maryland. "He is keeping our objective very clear — preserve marriage."
Schubert "is the master of fear and distortion," said state Sen. Rich Madaleno, a Montgomery County Democrat who is gay. "He's the Karl Rove of the anti-gay movement."
Schubert calls his pitch "the consequences message." He makes commercials telling viewers a same-sex marriage law will usher in a wave of intolerance for anyone who opposes it. Gay marriage will be taught in elementary schools, he says. Those who dare to speak out against it will be pummeled in the public square.
He scours the country — and indeed the Northern Hemisphere — for material to back up his claim. This week, a local example surfaced. Gallaudet University's diversity officer was suspended from her job for signing a petition to put the marriage law on the Maryland ballot.
Schubert's organization pounced, condemning the university's action and firing off a fundraising solicitation.
"It is a classic example of what happens to people of faith who speak up for traditional marriage — they are punished routinely," Schubert said. "It will only get worse if Marylanders were to pass Question 6."
Supporters of same-sex marriage in Maryland, including Gov. Martin O'Malley and Marylanders for Marriage Equality, called on the university to reinstate her. Schubert dismissed their statements as cover during a heated battle.
"I don't imagine they will be issuing any statements if this occurs to someone after the campaign ends," Schubert said.
The "consequences" pitch frustrates gay-rights advocates, who find themselves scrambling to add details they say Schubert leaves out. In Maryland last week, he told of a lesbian couple who successfully sued a Vermont hotel after the owners merely mentioned their views on same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit told a different version of the story: A staff member at the hotel agreed to host the gay wedding, then refused when the owners learned of the plans. The lawsuit contended the hotel violated Vermont's fair housing and public accommodations law.
"He is a genius at taking things out of proportion," said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, who has faced off against Schubert in two states.
On Thursday, as others spoke during the strategy session in the sanctuary at Riverdale Baptist Church, Schubert studied his laptop — toggling between various spreadsheets and graphs.