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Gary Johnson: Is GOP Debate Exclusion A 'Conspiracy'?

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GARY JOHNSON
AP

WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson is frustrated that he's not being given more airtime, and he's calling out organizers of an upcoming debate for excluding him.

Johnson participated in the first GOP presidential debate in May, although he was not invited to the most recent one sponsored by Fox News, which occurred in Iowa ahead of the Ames Straw Poll.

Johnson will also be excluded from the upcoming debate hosted by NBC, Politico and the Reagan Library on Sept. 7, and in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, leading the former two-term governor of New Mexico to wonder if forces were conspiring against him.

"I'm getting the sense that they come up with the rule after they look at me. I can't help but think that," Johnson said Tuesday, during a conference call with reporters. He has begun to wonder whether there was a small conspiracy to keep him out. "How do you pair the fact that I should be at 2 percent of the poll when these other guys who [poll] equal to me have outspent me 30 to 1? How is that even possible?"

The hosts of the debate set rules that every participatant must be an officially declared candidate and get at least 4 percent in a national poll.

Only about one in five Republican voters even know who Johnson is, according to Gallup polling. Johnson received 2 percent in the latest CNN poll, tying with Herman Cain and coming ahead of Rick Santourm and Jon Huntsman. All three of those candidates, however, were in the last debate and will be in the next one.

"Here it is, a poll comes out yesterday, has me ahead of these folks basically for the first time ever," Johnson griped. "The point is, I should be included. ... It appears as though they all get together and invoke 'the Gary Johnson rule.'"

On Tuesday afternoon, Johnson appeared on Fox Business with Neil Cavuto and talked about his exclusion. Cavuto sympathized with Johnson's complaints, telling him that "the system is screwing you," "it's stupid," "it doesn't make sense" and then joking that perhaps it's Johnson's hair that keeps him out of the debate.

Johnson acknowledges he's unknown but argues that shouldn't matter.

Johnson has tried to make the case that Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were registering only 1 or 2 percent a few months before the Iowa caucus. Indeed, many columnists, journalists and political scientists will insist early polling doesn't mean squat. At this point in the last election cycle, there seemed to be consensus Rudy Guiliani would face off with Hillary Clinton in the general election and John McCain had been completely counted out.

So Johnson wonders if maybe it's his views, which are at the very least unusual for a Republican, that keep him at bay.

He supports gay rights, he's pro-choice, he wants to slash 43 percent of military spending, and frequently talks about how he would legalize marijuana or -- as he puts it -- end the "prohibition" on it.

Shortly after the socially conservative Iowa group The Family Leader unveiled a controversial marriage pledge, Johnson condemned it, saying, "In one concise document, they manage to condemn gays, single parents, single individuals, divorcees, Muslims, gays in the military, unmarried couples, women who choose to have abortions and everyone else who doesn’t fit in a Norman Rockwell painting."

"I'm the only [candidate] that's not leading with being socially conservative. I'm not socially conservative but all of the others are," Johnson said.

Johnson joins a growing chorus of Republicans upset that the media is not paying attention to them.

Fred Karger, a gay rights activist and former GOP operative under Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and other notable Republican presidential candidates, has filed official complaints with the Federal Elections Commission to protest his exclusion from debates. Karger is officially filed as a 2012 candidate and has noted surveys where he has hit their minimum of level support in national polling, but usually he doesn't even register. He hasn't raised much money either, with filings revealing the only campaign cash has come from his personal wealth.

Karger has openly admitted his goal is to simply be included in a debate.

Although Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) denies he ever asked for help, his supporters, media columnists and satirists like Jon Stewart all blasted the major television networks for not covering Paul's near victor over Michele Bachmann at the Iowa Straw Poll.

There's no doubt Johnson would likely be the thorn in the side of many other candidates, like Paul was four years ago and is again this year. But Paul has a loyal following, while most people don't have a clue who Johnson is.

Buddy Roemer, a man who has only been elected as a Democrat and failed twice in running for Louisiana governor as a Republican, still will not make it into his first debate. His campaign manager took to calling the rules blocking him from entrance "bullshit."

Roemer, like Johnson, turned to social media sites like Twitter to try to join the August debate, making sure to be critical of the questions being posed.

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