Gay Republican hopeful denied access to presidential debate in Iowa

Fred Karger visited Iowa in August 2010 and attended the Iowa State Fair, passing out merchandise such as buttons, frisbees and stickers with his name on it.

Photo courtesy of the Fred Karger Presidential Exploratory Committee.

Fred Karger visited Iowa in August 2010 and attended the Iowa State Fair, passing out merchandise such as buttons, frisbees and stickers with his name on it.

Tyler Kingkade

Republican Fred Karger has a strong political resume, having worked on the campaigns of Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and former Senator Bob Dole. Now he intends to make his own bid for office, seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for president.

One problem already complicating his would-be campaign: he’s gay.

The first organized gathering of Republican hopefuls will be a debate held by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa group organizing the March 7 event, has said Karger wasn’t among the 15 potential candidates invited because he only talks about one issue: gay rights. Scheffler told the Washington, D.C. newspaper, The Hill, Karger is not a legitimate candidate.

“This is very unusual,” Karger told the Iowa State Daily.

Karger recognizes he’s a long shot, but said he measures his campaign’s success by whether he can be included in the debates. He said he’s worked toward the requirements of the 2008 cycle debates he and his research director have identified.

“They need to be political, not philosophical, like what Steve Scheffler’s doing,” Karger said. “And according to our reading and my attorney’s reading and the FEC’s [Federal Election Committee] regulations on this, you cannot exclude someone based on that person’s beliefs, because then the contributions to the other candidates who are participating is considered an in-kind contribution.”

Scheffler, an Iowa delegate to the Republican National Committee, sent an e-mail to Karger in May. The e-mail was in response to a message by Californians Against Hate, in which Karger outlined how Maine officials ordered the National Organization for Marriage to turn over the names of its donors in a recent state election.

The e-mail from Scheffler read:

You don’t care about transparency — you and the radical homosexual community want to harass supporters of REAL marriage. I am the Republican National Committeeman for Iowa. As a private citizen, and knowing literally thousands of caucus goers, I will work overtime to help ensure that your political aspirations are aborted right here in Iowa. Have you studied our past caucuses – you have NO chance here in Iowa! [sic]

“The fact that Steve Scheffler is saying ‘no, he’s a single issue candidate,’ which I construe based on correspondent to me last May, means ‘no, he’s openly gay, and he’s not invited because of that.'”

Recently, Karger met with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and even Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who was excluded from debates during his own 2008 run.

Karger said he plans to pressure the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition into inviting him to the forum. He began distributing a petition last week.

Meanwhile, he’s also researching Barack Obama’s successful 2008 run and his grassroots and web-savvy approach to a presidential campaign.

In September, Karger launched his first TV ad in New Hampshire and has already formed exploratory committees. He’ll return to New Hampshire this week.

In October, he visited Iowa City to speak to a family law class at the University of Iowa College of Law, an LGBTQ student organization at the university and to the campus College Republicans. It was his fourth trip to Iowa since April.

Karger said he’s done far more than some of the GOP 2012 hopefuls who were invited.

“Many of whom haven’t even been to Iowa,” Karger said, “and many could be seen as single-issue candidates themselves.”

The Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition supported the campaign that ousted the three Iowa Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of a ruling declaring a ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Karger said he requested a meeting with Scheffler to clear the air. Last week, Karger was a guest on Jan Mickelson’s WHO-AM radio program.