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How White House gay marriage declarations are affecting other Democratic candidates

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(Jae C. Hong/AP)

Comments made by Vice President Biden and President Obama in support of gay marriage this week are trickling down to Democrats running for office this year, placing some in an awkward electoral positions ahead of November.

When Obama first expressed support for gay marriage on Wednesday, much was made of the potential impact on his own re-election race. But what about the effect on fellow Democrats?

Tim Kaine, Joe Donnelly, Bob Kerrey and Sen. Claire McCaskill are among those Senate candidates who have been pressed this week to explain or reaffirm their stances on gay marriage amid highly competitive elections.

"The underlying issue is: Should committed couples have the same legal rights and responsibilities? And the answer to that is an unequivocal 'yes,'" Kaine, the former governor of Virginia now running for Senate, reportedly told the media Tuesday. "I believe in the legal equality of relationships... Just say I'm for relationship equality."

Kaine made these statements (none of which referred to same-sex unions as "marriage") as reporters pressed him at a breakfast sponsored by centrist think tank The Third Way two days after Biden said he was "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriage.

Following the president's affirmed support for gay marriage Wednesday, the LGBT of Virginia called on Kaine in a letter Thursday to go the way of the president: "Governor Kaine, we ask you to join with us, and President Barack Obama, in calling for full marriage equality for Virginians and all citizens of the United States." The organization is mounting an effort to put forth resolutions related to gay marriage on this year's district and state convention ballots.

Kaine is expected to face Republican former Gov. George Allen in the Virginia Senate race this fall.

In Indiana, Republicans took it upon themselves to start a gay marriage dialogue in the Senate race this week by pressing Democratic congressman and Senate candidate Donnelly to explain his stance on the issue.

"Donnelly has stood by the President when it comes to ObamaCare and the stimulus, but one has to wonder: where does he stand on gay marriage?" the National Republican Senatorial Committee said Thursday in a press release about the congressman. "Joe Donnelly should immediately tell Indiana voters whether or not he's going to once again side with President Obama."

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But Donnelly quickly distanced himself from the president, saying Thursday that marriage should be between a man and a woman, according to the Associated Press.

Donnelly faces Republican state treasurer Richard Mourdock this fall.

Staff for incumbent McCaskill expressed a more nuanced position Thursday, telling the Springfield News-Leader the senator believes the legality of gay marriage is an issue best left up to the states. States should "take the lead in determining marriage equality," spokesman John LaBombard, wrote in an email to the News-Leader explaining McCaskill's position.

Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey went further than McCaskill this week, aligning himself with Obama on gay marriage. "I support marriage equality and believe strongly that all of us have a right to be treated equally under the law," Kerrey said in a statement Thursday. "I also believe that states should retain the authority to write family and marriage laws."

The Democratic National Committee and other Democratic organizations this week have been playing up the White House's position as a way to rally Democratic voters.

"I am standing with the President and I hope you will, too," Washington Sen. Patty Murray wrote in a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraising email Wednesday.

But a Republican close to the GOP campaign strategy noted to Yahoo News Friday that few Democrats running in competitive races are siding with the president.

"Given the positioning of their candidates, in contradiction to their committee's stated position, are they concerned about this issue?" the strategist wrote of the DSCC.

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