In an inwardly directed q & a, New York‘s Frank Rich has addressed conventional wisdom concerns that President Obama‘s history-making announcement that he supports gay marriage could hurt him in an election year when he needs to win swing states like North Carolina. “That’s always been the rationale for Obama’s dawdling,” he writes. “Don’t rock the boat in North Carolina — or Florida or Virginia or Colorado — by speaking out on gay marriage until after November 6 has passed.

“The counter-argument I’d make is that Obama looked like a phony and a coward each day he fudged this issue, and that his taking a strong and principled stand will have a halo effect on his leadership in general, including among voters who are ambivalent about gay marriage or opposed to it. Just look at Andrew Cuomo, whose approval rating remains high upstate and among Republicans, not just among liberals in New York City and its suburbs.

As for the threat that Mittens Romney will now an issue out of Obama’s conversion, Rich writes, “Just let him try. The real political issue for Romney as he tries to attract centrist voters in a general election is if he can avoid being tainted by the homophobes he pals around with.

“Last week, Romney let the religious right drive away his openly gay foreign-policy spokesman Richard Grenell before he even started the job. More embarrassing still, it wasn’t the once-powerful religious-right big guns, the Robertson-Falwell-Dobson types, who put Romney on the run, but Bryan Fischer, a crackpot bigot who hates Mormons as much as he does gays.

“Then again, Romney couldn’t stand up to Rush Limbaugh when he called Sandra Fluke a ‘slut’ or, this week, to that boisterous supporter at an Ohio rally who called for Obama to be tried for treason.”