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Fred Phelps formerly of Westboro Baptist Church, preacher and notorious bigot, stood for public office three times under the auspices of the Democratic party. According to Wikipedia he convinced significant numbers of people to vote for him in statewide primaries.

Oddly, he had once been a prominent civil rights lawyer, good enough to get an award from the NAACP.

Did either his civil rights work or his homophobia feature in his campaign? If not, what did he say to persuade 50,000 people, 30%, to vote for him in the 1992 democratic Senate primary?

Edit: I have changed it to be clear, I want to know what his public prescriptions were, campaign promises... I do not want to know his private motives.

'Other than homophobia' was removed from the title. Fred Phelps is primarily known and condemned as a homophobe, and rightly so. I am not interested in that aspect of his campaign, just the other stuff. I already know he was a homophobe.

  • This video explains his theology, if not his politics: youtube.com/watch?v=EEIqEYP_ZvM – Affable Geek Jan 27 '15 at 2:57
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    And, what reason does any nutcase need to run for office? – Affable Geek Jan 27 '15 at 2:57
  • @NeMo - I don't think it is a bad question because it is candidate-specific, but you have a disconnect between your title and the question itself. The title asks about his "aim", which would involve speculating about his private motivations - something that SE as a whole is bad at. The text itself asks about features of his campaign and appeal, which is objectively answerable. – Bobson Jan 27 '15 at 18:41
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    @AffableGeek, was Hitler a nutcase? Yep. Is it important to investigate why people voted for him? Yep. – Ne Mo Jan 29 '15 at 19:08
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    @NeMo - This is a much better take on this question. I still don't know that I would call it a good question, but it's much more on-topic and answerable. Good edit. – Bobson Jan 29 '15 at 19:43
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+100

It's a bit hard to research non-presidential elections that old online, but from what I've seen, his platform appears to have consisted mostly of "I'm better than my opponents." He was also for lower taxes, cutting government spending, removing political corruption, as well as prohibiting other "sin"-type things (such as alcohol). But every reference I can find has discussed his campaigns in terms of the attack ads, especially the "unusually personal terms" that his campaign advertising used.

Some examples (all emphasis mine):

Southern Poverty Law Center:

1990 Phelps, undertaking a run for governor of Kansas, begins disseminating flyers attacking his gubernatorial competitors and other state politicians in unusually personal terms. He loses the Democratic primary, but garners 11,634 votes, 6.7% of the total.

1992 Running for the U.S. Senate, Phelps gets a remarkable 30.8% of the ballots cast in the Democratic primary even as he terms his opponent a "bull dike" [sic].

"TV political ads – make or break" from the Topeka Capital Journal:

The Washburn researchers uncovered other examples of hard-charging political advertising:

• 1990 Democratic primary candidate Fred Phelps against Carlin, "John Carlin is the Michael Dukakis of Kansas."

The Kansas Historical Society's interview with former Governor Carlin:

The third candidate in the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary was Baptist minister Fred Phelps, who emphasized Carlin’s responsibility for the repeal of Kansas liquor-by-the-drink laws. He was not yet in the national spotlight because of his church’s pickets of the funerals of homosexuals and U. S. servicemen and women.

Then, from Carlin's own words:

To put this in context, in 1988 the Phelps family was very, very active, and publicly so, in the Al Gore [presidential] campaign. It was before going crazy on the gay stuff. “Before the Now Fred Phelps,” is the way to put it. We had endless primary debates. Debating Joan Finney and Fred Phelps was like a nightmare. I mean, it was a nightmare. The classic one with Fred was at a Hutchinson church. And see, what I had failed to acknowledge, both of them were attacking me. Joan Finney attacked me because I was not a populist. I was opposed to initiative and referendum. I was opposed to the people running the state of Kansas, okay?

...

Anyway this night at this church, they’re both going after me, but Fred Phelps’s attack is: “John, I love you like a brother but, you know, on liquor by the drink, you’re wrong.” He didn’t get into the gay issue; they were starting that a little bit, but he didn’t bring that out in the campaign, but he did the alcohol issue. He said, “Every death on the highways in Kansas, it’s your fault, John Carlin, and the people of Kansas need to remember that. He’s the one that has brought us all these alcohol problems. We wouldn’t have this if he didn’t do it.”

...

But anyway, Fred Phelps that night at the Hutchinson church says, “John, I love you like a brother but you’re just as dumb as molasses on this one.” Just ripped me, but it was over and over, the standard: “John I love you like a brother, but . . . .” So at the end of the debate, I had the end of my ninety seconds to wrap up and so I turned to Fred and said, “Fred you know we have a lot of these to go,” (this is maybe June), “we have a lot of these to go. If you keep up this ‘You know, I love you like a brother,’ by the time we get to the election, people are going to start to get suspicious about our relationship.” He went white as a sheet and had no response. That was one of my great moments with Fred Phelps. He’s gone from that position he took then to what I think is literally hating me. I don’t know if I’d put it in the context of hate or not but it comes out like that when they attack people.


The most descriptive article I was able to find was a 1990 article from the Laurence Journal-World, which interspersed attacks on the other candidates with actual platform positions:

An ordained Baptist minister who has been pastor at Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka since 1955, Phelps is running, or riding, a grass roots campaign. He strongly attacked other candidates who say they need piles of money to run for office, especially Gov. Mike Hayden.

"HAYDEN SAYS he needs $2 million to make the race; that's obscene," Phelps said. "Only a witch doctor needs to package himself in slick televison ads to cast an image."

Phelps said increased property taxes brought about by reappraisal and classification is the top issue in the campaign.

...

Phelps said his solution is to do away with property taxes entirely. He said the only taxes needed "if government is debloated, and the fat cut out" are the present levels of income and sales taxes.

...

Phelps called Carlin and Hayden the "tax twins" but had no comment about Finney.

...

THE OTHER most important issue, Phelps said, is "sleaze in government."

He called for the enactment of a tough code of ethics for public officials, spending limits for public officials' salaries and required public votes on pay increases, prohibiting the hiring of outside lawyers to do state legal work and banning lobbyist and lobbying activities.

  • Great answer. Did you stumble across anything about why he was vocally in support of Al Gore's 1988 presidential run? Gore made some homophobic comments at the time, but this sadly was not exceptional during the 1980s, and Gore never sank to Phelps' level of invective in any case. Phelps appears from what you have said to be a conservative, which Al Gore was not; 1988 was the beginning of his long environmentalist campaign. You've earnt your points, but any thoughts? – Ne Mo Feb 7 '15 at 17:55
  • @NeMo - I did, actually, although I don't remember which link had it. It's probably not one that I ended up including. – Bobson Feb 9 '15 at 3:20
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    @NeMo - I did just find this link, though, which matches what I came across before: Basically, in the 80's, Gore's attitude towards homosexuality matched Phelps' (i.e. Bible-based opposition), which was enough for the latter to offer his support. (I'd guess it was a "best Democrat for me" situation.) But Gore's position moderated with time, eventually causing Phelps to start opposing/protesting Gore. They may have had other social issues in common, but I couldn't find anything either way. – Bobson Feb 9 '15 at 3:21

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