A little-known presidential prospect said he will appeal to the federal government and to his likely opponents in hopes of being included in a Republican presidential debate next month.
California Republican Fred Karger was the first contender to form an exploratory committee for the 2012 presidential election and already has staff on the ground in Iowa. He’s made a handful of trips to Iowa and New Hampshire and shot commercials both places.
If Karger does officially join the race, he’ll be the first openly-gay presidential candidate. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition — a socially conservative group operated by the Iowa Christian Alliance — didn’t invite Karger to a rally next month in Waukee.
Karger says he’s being excluded because he’s gay. At a press conference in Des Moines on Friday, he called the event organizer “a bully and a bigot” and announced he is calling on federal authorities in intervene.
Iowa Christian Alliance President Steve Scheffler wasn’t available to comment on Friday afternoon, but he told The Des Moines Register earlier this year that Karger isn’t worthy of debating the other contenders because he only focuses on gay issues.
“He’s got one issue and in my opinion that does not make him a serious or legitimate candidate,” Scheffler said.
The Karger camp says that’s not a good enough reason. In a letter to the Federal Election Commission, Karger alleges that because Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition organizers haven’t disclosed how they determined who to invite to the forum, the group is illegally supporting participants.
“[Scheffler] doesn’t like me or my beliefs, so Fred Karger is not invited,” Karger said. “There is no specific political criteria used like other sponsors of debates and forums use.”
While Karger doesn’t shy away from his status as a gay Republican that has fueled much of his media attention, he fights the single-issue label.
“I want to focus on education and the economy — I come from California where unemployment is 12 percent,” he said. “I want to work on the issues that are important to my community, but I’ve talked about dozens of other issues.
The conservative organization said in a statement to the Iowa Independent, that forum invitations were based on viability, fund raising ability, and prior electoral success:
“Any claim by Mr. Karger that the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Spring Kick-off constitutes an in-kind contribution to the campaigns of as-yet undeclared presidential candidates is specious and utterly without merit.”
A federal election law expert said groups generally rely on objective criteria to exclude fringe candidates, but it’s not uncommon for certain politicians to be left out.
“You’ll see plenty of debates that include only the front-runners,” Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center in Washington D.C., told IowaWatch. “There might be 15 candidates but many debates might include only four or five of those. And I think that’s in the public interest. there’s not much good that would come out of an hour or hour-and-a-half debate between 15 people.”
Organizers snubbed candidates a handful of times during the last election cycle. Alan Keyes, a former U.S. diplomat, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, were denied invitations to events because debate sponsors said their polling numbers were too low.
Among the Democrats, former Alaska Gov. Mike Gravel and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, were each left out of a few debates for poor poll showings or based on requirements that candidates hire campaign staffers or rent office space in contentious states. Some on the left criticized the Des Moines Register for excluding them.
Those cases all include objective criteria for who was invited. Perhaps more controversial, though, was the Republican Jewish Coalition’s decision not to invite Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, to a 2007 event. Paul supporters criticized the Jewish group, saying the congressman was excluded because he has frequently opposed aid to Israel. Still, federal elections authorities didn’t intervene.
If the Federal Elections Commission doesn’t side with Karger in advance of the March 7 event, the self-described Independent Republican hopes the other possible candidates will stick up for him.
In a letter to the 15 expected forum attendees — most of whom had made far fewer moves toward a presidential run — Karger wrote:
As someone who has been actively involved in Republican politics my entire life and worked on nine Presidential campaigns including three as a senior consultant to Presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, I feel I deserve a seat at the table.
The Party of Abraham Lincoln should be inclusive and welcome all to discuss the important issues of today. Our nation is at a pivotal point, and I would hope that you would support my effort to speak at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum.
An Iowa political expert says it’s not likely the other Republicans — including big names like Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee — will align with a candidate who is so vocal about gay issues.
“People aren’t going to jump into the fray with him if that’s his main thing,” said Tim Hagle, an associate processor in the University of Iowa’s political science program. “You gotta have more than one issue here. It’s gotta be more than that.”