Forward Thinking

Alan Grayson Blames the GOP 'Jesus Freaks'

By Nathan Guttman

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Alan Grayson

Florida Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson has never been known for holding his tongue in political debates and so his remarks about the government shutdown shouldn’t come as a great surprise.

Still, the Jewish lawmaker who won back his central Florida seat in 2012 and who’s considered to be one of the main speakers of the progressive end of the Democratic Party, caught some headlines when he offered his own analysis of the Republican Party during a discussion about the shutdown.

Speaking onHBO’s Bill Maher Real Time show last week, Grayson provided his view on the GOP’s make up. “I think there’s really 3 Republican parties,” he said. “There’s the corporate shills; there are the religious fanatics; and then there are the freedom fiends, the ones who wants to make sure you have the right to sleep under a bridge.”

Host Bill Maher added his color to Grayson’s classification of Republicans, saying that there are “Jesus freaks, gun nuts, generic obese suburbanites – and let me add, the super rich.”

“Yeah,” Grayson responded, adding that currently the “corporate shills” in the minority in the GOP and cannot force their will over the party.

Grayson’s remarks may have broken ranks with fellow Jewish Democrats not only in style, but also in his choice of discussing the religious beliefs of members of his rival party.

While Grayson did not refer specifically to the religious identity of, what he described as, Republican “religious fanatics,” he accepted Maher’s definition of them as “Jesus freaks,” thus breaking with longtime Jewish Capitol Hill tradition of not raising faith as a reason for political differences.

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Chuck vs. Chuck?

By Nathan Guttman

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Chucjk Schumer

It could come down to a tale of two Chucks.

Chuck Hagel’s chances of getting confirmed as Pentagon chief could hinge on whether Sen. Chuck Schumer is satisfied with Hagel’s stance on Iran.

Schumer, perhaps the most influential Jewish senator, is not pleased with Obama’s choice of Hagel for Secretary of Defense and has yet to decide whether to vote in favor of the nomination, Politico reported. Supporting Hagel, Schumer reportedly said, would be “very hard.”

Schumer, according to the report, expressed his misgivings about Hagel in private conversations and in discussions with Jewish leaders. But the New York senator would not make any direct comments on the issue and has pointedly refused to commit to supporting Hagel.

Given his position as the third ranking Democrat in Senate and his standing in the Jewish community, a refusal by Schumer to back Hagel could set the tone for other Jewish and pro-Israel Democrats in the Senate and potentially derail the nomination.

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The $1 Trillion Debt Ceiling Solution

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) wants the government to mint a platinum coin worth…a cool $1 trillion..

Nadler, a Jewish Upper West Sider, thinks the minting of a ridiculously valuable coin could foil GOP attempts to hold Democrats hostage in debt ceiling negotiations. It would allow the government to pay its debts without going through Congress, which seems intent on dragging its feet on anything President Obama wants, especially after the bruising fiscal cliff drama.

“It sounds silly but it’s absolutely legal,” Nadler told the website Capital New York last week.

The idea’s gained some traction recent days. Economist Paul Krugman endorsed the trillion dollar coin on Monday, as have others.

So here comes the backlash.

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Chuck Hagel, Israel's Pentagon Nightmare

By Nathan Guttman

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Chuck Hagel

A number of Jewish community activists are sending warning signals to the White House about a leading candidate to become President Obama’s choice for the next Secretary of Defense.

Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who reportedly is President Obama’s top pick for replacing Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, has a long record of tensions with the pro-Israel community. And now, after a period of rumblings below the surface, a high-profile Jewish communal leader has fired off a strong salvo in opposition to Hagel’s prospective selection.

“Chuck Hagel would not be the first, second, or third choice for the American Jewish community’s friends of Israel,” Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman told Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin December 18. “His record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling. The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, and former president Jimmy Carter.”

Foxman’s comments follow several attacks on Hagel from Jewish activists on the right of the political spectrum, such as Noah Pollack of the Emergency Committee for Israel, as the possibility of his nomination has emerged. But even beyond the hardcore right-wing, Hagel has not been viewed as a strong supporter on issues of concern to many who align with the positions taken by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the large, establishment pro-Israel lobby.

Media reports are full of examples of his departures from AIPAC’s views: Hagel opposed Senate legislation toughening sanctions on Iran; he called for increasing efforts to negotiate with Tehran; and, in general, refrained from supporting the use of sanctions as a means to pressure other nations.

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Shhh: NY Times Reports on Orthodox GOP Vote

By J.J. Goldberg

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Some news, apparently, is fit to print, but not too boldly. Take, for example, the demure self-censorship on display Saturday in the New York Times’ eye-opening report, headlined “On Island, Largely Blue, an Exception: Trump Tower,” on the handful of New York City neighborhoods that voted for Mitt Romney over President Obama. Overall, the city voted Obama over Romney 81% to 18%.

The headline and the first five paragraphs were about the two isolated election precincts on the Upper East Side of Manhattan Island where Romney won half or more of the vote. It wasn’t until paragraph 7 to find out that the main news began to trickle out: that the “deepest single bloc of Republican support in all the five boroughs” was a four-square-block section of Gravesend, Brooklyn, “dotted with Sephardic temples and yeshivas.”

Finally, well into the jump, we learned that Romney “enjoyed strong support from a range of neighborhoods with large populations of Orthodox Jews.” Many precincts in Borough Park, Kew Gardens Hills and Sheepshead Bay (which is largely Russian, not Orthodox) voted 90% GOP. A note on the accompanying map gave you the money quote: “Mr. Obama’s worst precincts were in Orthodox Jewish areas like Ocean Parkway and Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Kew Gardens Hills in Queens.”

The map shows the city’s 5,286 precincts as a sea of blue and red dots, shaded darker or lighter to indicate higher or lower percentages of partisan leaning. The darkest red voted over 80% for Romney, while pale pink gave him 50% to 65%. In addition to the broad swathes of dark red running down Brooklyn from Hasidic Borough Park down Sephardic Ocean Park to Russian Brighton Beach, there are dark red clusters in mostly Italian-American Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, and mostly Irish-American (and storm-ravaged) Breezy Point, Queens.

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No (GOP) Sex on Tisha B'Av

By Nathan Guttman

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With President Barack Obama’s reelection only a few days in the rear view mirror, the topic of the Jewish role in American politics is still brewing — and we learned some tantalizing details about Mitt Romney’s summer trip to Israel.

Democratic and Republican operatives sparred over the importance of the Jewish vote in the just-completed election at the only session devoted to discussing the results at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly.

Tevi Troy, a former George W. Bush adviser who consulted the Romney campaign on Jewish issues, said the big headline coming out of the election had nothing to do with Jews.

Insteaed, it concerned the fast-growing Latino vote, which went strongly for Obama, prompting much hand-wringing about the future of the GOP.

“People are going to wonder going forward,” Troy said, “how much the Jewish vote really matters.”

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Ed Koch Weighs In for Obama

By Nathan Guttman

With the presidential election only days away, it is time for both campaigns to pull out their strongest arguments and best presenters in order to make that final push just a little bit more effective.

For Jewish Democrats, this means getting out Ed Koch, former mayor of New York, for a warm endorsement of President Barack Obama. In a campaign video released Wednesday Koch speaks at length about Obama’s record on Israel, and then moves on to praise the president’s economic policies. To make clear at whom this ad is directed, producers of the video made sure to film Koch with a large menorah in the background.

Koch is an important figure for the Obama campaign not only because of his standing in the Jewish community. Koch is especially valuable because of his on-again, off-again endorsements of the President, which may give him credibility as a straight-shooter with some undecided voters.

An outspoken supporter of Israel, Koch has criticized Obama several times in the past four years, even as recent as last month Now, the Obama campaign can make the point that even Koch, 87, is convinced by Obama’s record on Israel.

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Norm Coleman Says Mitt Won't Reverse 'Roe'

By Nathan Guttman

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Ex-Sen. Norm Coleman

Former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman has been making the rounds for the Republican Jewish Committee, joining former Bush White House spokesman Ari Flesicher and RJC director Matt Brooks in shuttling through swing states speaking to Jewish voters.

The trio has visited Ohio, Florida, Nevada and, well, Florida once again, speaking mainly on issues relating to Israel and foreign policy but also touching on some domestic issues Jewish voters care about.

And this is where Coleman got his chance to make some headlines, not all of them positive. Asked by a Jewish voter about Mitt Romney’s positions on abortions, the former lawmaker, who lost his reelection bid in 2006 to another Jewish candidate, comedian Al Franken, moved to reassure that nothing will change under a Romney administration.

“The reality is, choice is an issue for a lot of people, an important issue. President Bush was president eight years, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed. He had two Supreme Court picks, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed. It’s not going to be reversed,” Coleman said at an RJC stop in Beachwood Ohio.

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Mitt's Big Lead in Israel

By Nathan Jeffay

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Luckily for President Barack Obama, Israel is no swing state.

A sneak preview of a poll which will be released tomorrow indicates that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has won the hearts and minds of Israelis. Asked which hopeful they preferred, some 57% of Jewish Israelis said Romney, while just 22% said President Barack Obama.

The poll, conducted by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute, suggested that in the Arab sector, the picture was totally different. Only 15% preferred Romney while 45% wanted to see Obama return to the White House.

Interestingly, in Israel Romney even some following among those who define themselves as left-wingers. Some 30% of respondents who put themselves in this group said they preferred Romney. Among rightists and centrists the figures were 70% and 54% respectively.

Some analysts have suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could see a spillover benefit in his own election campaign if Romney wins, or suffer if Obama is reelected. But 69% of Israelis say that the US election results won’t impact the outcome of Israeli elections. Some 51% of Israeli Arabs believe they will.

Of course, voting behavior experts have often pointed out that voters’ analysis of how they make up their mind is often a world away from how they really choose their candidate. So we will have to wait until the early hours of January 23 to find out any true connection between the U.S. and Israeli elections.

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Obama Won by Talking Like a Republican

By Jay Michaelson

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This late in the campaign, everything is about swing states – and the foreign policy debate was largely about Florida, where moderate Jews could well decide who gets the state’s 29 electoral votes.

On those grounds, on the basis of issues important to Florida Jews, President Obama won this debate, but in a bizarre, looking-glass sort of way in which the candidates seemingly exchanged personalities. Mitt Romney sounded like Obama: reasonable, measured, and knowledgeable about foreign policy. Barack Obama sounded like Romney: making strong rhetorical points with little attention to detail.

On Israel, for example, it was Obama who struck first, citing his support of the Iron Dome defense system, and using the phrase “stand with Israel” numerous times. Romney, meanwhile, sounded like a Democrat: arguing for peace talks with the Palestinians, and a measured approach to Iran.

So too on the emotional issues likely to resonate with the bubbes and zaydes of Palm Beach County. Could anyone have predicted that President Obama would invoke the holocaust in his discussion of the State of Israel? And yet that’s what he did, noting that on his trip to Israel, he visited Yad Vashem (the holocaust memorial, he explained to the non-Jewish voters who happened to be watching the debate too), whereas Romney went to fundraisers.

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Mr. Tikkun Olam? That's Rich.

By Bradley Burston (Haaretz)

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Mitt Romney

Of all of the tough sells in this election year, you have to hand it to former George Bush speechwriter Noam Neusner for coming up with one of the toughest. In an op-ed timed to coincide with the Republican National Convention, Neusner exhorts the largely Democratic, largely Jewish readership of the Forward :

“Vote Mitt Romney. He’s the real tikkun olam candidate.”

No one knows better than Neusner, who also served the Bush White House as liaison to the American Jewish community, the level of chutzpah embodied in his call. In fact, he himself cops to it from the very beginning:

“Regular readers of these pages are most likely strong supporters in the safety net programs set up in the New Deal, Great Society, and now Obamacare legislative eras,” referencing the Democratic administrations of Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and Lyndon Johnson in the mid-’60s.”

“They hold these programs to be good examples of America’s capacity to care for the ill, the poor, the destitute and the aged. And they find in these programs America’s expression of the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, repairing the world as it is, in the service of God and Torah.”

By the end of the piece, though, Neusner suggests that it is time that American Jews - 85 percent of whom voted for Roosevelt in 1936 and 1940, 90 percent for Johnson in 1964, and nearly 80 percent for Obama in ‘08 – made a historic turn.

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Mitt's Note and a Prayer

By Nathan Jeffay

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Mitt Romney leaves a note after praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Most of the people wouldn’t have known who Mitt Romney was if wasn’t for the large entourage. But word travelled fast around the courtyard of the Western Wall that the Republican presidential candidate had arrived.

The weather in Jerusalem is scorching and the atmosphere at the wall is intense, as people recite the special Afternoon Service for the Fast of Av, with passages mourning the destruction of the ancient temple, of which the wall is the last remnant. But when Romney arrived, for a moment many worshippers switched to more contemporary concerns, and made sure they caught a glimpse of the man who may become president.

“Beat Obama,” one worshipper shouted, as others echoed his sentiment, suggesting that Romney would be better for Israel.

Shmuel Rabinovitch, rabbi of the Western Wall showed him around, and Romney followed tradition and placed a note in the cracks between the walls — as did his wife on the women’s side of the barrier that separates between the genders.

With Romney’s campaign on gaffe-alert following his stumbles in the British leg of his trip, one can speculate that the notes were carefully crafted with the help of press advisors.

Notes left at the Western Wall aren’t always entirely private petitions to God, as when Barack Obama visited on his campaign trail four years ago. His note was removed and published.

No word yet on whether Mitt asked for help in November in the swing states.

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Out Bibi-ing Bibi

By Nathan Jeffay

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Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney has out Bibi-ed Bibi.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is famous for saying that history is repeating itself. The way he tells it, we’re in the late 1930s, and today’s Nazis are the leaders of the Iranian regime, who threaten Israel’s future and perpetrate attacks like the recent one in Bulgaria through its proxies.

This morning, the Republican presidential candidate took Netanyahu’s penchant for linking history and present challenges, but outdid him by almost two millennia. Instead of being the Nazis who foreshadowed threats to Israel today, he managed to connect them to the events being mourned today, the Fast of Av, beginning with the destruction of the two ancient Jerusalem temples and the suffering that went along with it.

Planning Romney’s Israel trip for the Fast of Av was a gaffe by his campaign, but he was determined to turn it to his advantage, even going a little overboard and effusing that he was “honored” to be in Israel on the fast, as if it were a long-planned act of solidarity with Ancient Israel.

“I’m honored to be here on the day of Tisha B’Av, to recognize the solemnity of the day and also the suffering of the Jewish people over the centuries and the millennia, and come with recognition of the sacrifices of so many,” he told Netanyahu. “Unfortunately, the tragedies of wanton killing are not only things of the past, but have darkened our skies in even more recent times.”

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Rocky Start to GOP Orthodox Outreach

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

The nascent alliance between the ultra-Orthodox and the Republican Party that some analysts say could revolutionize New York state politics is getting off to a rocky start.

UPDATE: Click through for Yossi Gestetner’s response.

That’s the takeaway from the drama over Yossi Gestetner, the Hasidic political operative who abruptly resigned from his position directing Jewish outreach for the GOP after just a few days on the job. He quit following a report from The Jewish Channel about his ties to ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist groups.

The Jewish Channel also reported that Gestetner has been a spokesman for an event supporting an Orthodox alleged child molester, and that he had argued that Jews should report crimes to rabbis before going to the police.

In a blog post on June 20, Gestetner denied that he resigned over his anti-Zionist ties.

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'The Era of the So-Called Jewish Vote Is Over'

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

A new survey of New York’s Jews out today suggests the advent of a much more politically conservative Jewish community that could shift the balance of local New York politics.

The study, conducted by the UJA Federation of New York, knocks down old conceptions of what it means to be a New York Jew. The Jewish community is increasingly Orthodox and poor, with significant numbers of Russian-speaking members and decreasing levels of educational attainment.

“The Russians are not Democrats, and the Hasidim are not necessarily Democrats,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a conservative Democratic political strategist. “When somebody figures out how to put the Russians and the ultra-Orthodox together they’re going to come up with an atomic bomb in Democratic politics in New York State.”

The UJA survey was the largest of its kind ever conducted. As we reported earlier this morning, 32% of Jews in the five boroughs of New York City plus three suburban counties identify as Orthodox, up from 27% a decade ago.

Orthodox Jews are generally more political conservative, and are in greater need of social services than non-Orthodox Jews. Their numbers appear to be concentrated in Brooklyn, where the study found that 22% of Brooklynites are Jewish, up from 18% just ten years ago.

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Sheldon's Back

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Sheldon Adelson

Remember Sheldon Adelson? Well, he’s back.

The Las Vegas casino billionaire was the biggest backer of Newt Gingrich’s failed presidential run, dumping a total of $21 million into a pro-Gingrich super PAC. Gingrich’s campaign is history now, but Adelson’s checkbook is very much in play, thanks in part to his hugely successful gambling developments in Macao.

Politico shed some light on the future of Adelson’s political giving this morning in a story that cites three possible recipients. Politico reports that Adelson met with Romney last week, and that Adelson is considering a major gift to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC that’s already raised $56 million. Karl Rove is also reported to be seeking Adelson’s backing for his $29 million super PAC called American Crossroads. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and GOP consultant Arthur Finkelstein have met with Adelson about funding a Republican super PAC focused on Senate races.

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Backer of Settlements Gives to Rove's Super PAC

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Irving Moskowitz, a major donor to Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, has given $1 million to the Karl Rove-linked Republican super PAC American Crossroads.

The donation, made in mid-February, was the subject of a lengthy Huffington Post report published April 12.

Moskowitz, 83, is best known for funding efforts to establish Jewish settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. In January 2011 he ignited worldwide controversy by demolishing an iconic East Jerusalem hotel he owned in order to make way for Jewish housing.

Moskowitz made his fortune operating a casino and bingo hall in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif. In 2004 he was the subject of a grand jury inquiry into allegations of business improprieties.

The American Crossroads donation is by far Moskowitz’s biggest political intervention in the United States. He has, however, been active as a Republican donor, and has been a supporter of Florida Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a prominent hawk on Middle East issues.

Moskowitz himself has kept a low profile in recent years. His wife Cherna Moskowitz appears to have taken the reins of his foundation.

American Crossroards has raised $22 million and spent $4 million in the current election cycle. Its ads have mostly targeted House Democrats, and the group began running television advertisements in swing states targeting President Obama early this week.

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Perry Drops Out, Boosts Newt's New Surge

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry has dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, throwing his support to Newt Gingrich.

Perry, who was trailing the rest of the Republican field in national and South Carolina polls, received less than 1% of the vote in the January 10 New Hampshire primary. But Perry did pull about 5% in South Carolina polls and, perhaps more importantly, was seen as dividing the social conservative vote that is steadfastly opposed to frontrunner Mitt Romney.

“I believe Newt is a conservative visionary who can transform this country,” Perry said.

Perry’s exit still leaves Republicans with two conservative alternatives to Romney: former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich was already closing in on Romney in South Carolina in several polls before Perry’s announcement and maintains a strong lead over. South Carolina’s primary is scheduled for Saturday, January 21.

“It’s helpful to Gingrich,” said Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, of Perry’s decision. “Perry didn’t have much support, although I do think that in the last few debates Perry became sort of a more likeable, endearing figure, even if that didn’t translate into political support.”

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Remember Iowa? Santorum Really Won

By Forward Staff

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Rick Santorum

Remember the Iowa caucuses? Well, there’s a new winner in Des Moines.

Republican Rick Santorum claimed a delayed-reaction victory after a final count showed him ahead of frontrunner Mitt Romney by 34 votes.

The original count on the January 3 election night showed Romney on top by 8 votes. But certified results found Santorum received 29,839 votes, while Romney got 29,805 votes.

Votes from eight out of 1,774 precincts couldn’t be found.

Santorum, who inexplicably seemed to accept his razor-thin loss on election night, quickly moved to claim his late victory in the Hawkeye State.

The New York Times reported that, in a Twitter message to his supporters Thursday morning, Mr. Santorum wrote: “Thank you Iowa for the win! …. Game on!”

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'Fred Who' Wins 346 Votes

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Fred Karger

Fred Karger, the gay Jewish Republican presidential candidate the Forward profiled last week, had a bit of a rough time in the New Hampshire primaries last night.

Karger, whose slogan is “Fred Who?”, garnered 346 votes, good for about .1% of the GOP vote.

He did have a dogfight with former candidate Michele Bachmann, whose name remained on the ballot even though she quit the race last week.

After swapping positions with Bachmann all night long, he wound up just three votes behind her, with all 301 precincts reporting.

For a little perspective, Karger trailed the last place top-tier candidate Rick Santorum, who won 23,085 votes.

Karger did beat onetime frontrunner Herman Cain, who earned only 155 votes.

Karger also earned fewer than half as many votes as Vermin Supreme, a candidate in New Hampshire for the Democratic presidential nomination, who appeared at a recent local debate wearing a boot hat.

Attempts to reach Karger on Wednesday morning were unsuccessful.

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