Former Arizona Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe told The Daily Caller that he supports the congressional campaign of Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.
“I think he’s a very viable candidate, he has all the right credentials,” Kolbe said Thursday, citing Babeu’s military service and law enforcement experience.
Like Babeu, who was outed last Thursday by a report in the Phoenix New Times, Kolbe is a gay Republican. Kolbe disclosed his sexual orientation just before the 1996 election, and was re-elected several times before leaving office in January 2007.
Kolbe said that his electoral success is a good sign for Babeu. “I think that it’s very clear that Arizona voters have a libertarian streak,” he said, “and if you look at the number of state legislators who are openly gay or lesbian, it’s not a real issue for most voters in Arizona.”
The New Times reported last week that Babeu had allegedly threatened a Mexican ex-boyfriend with deportation. Since then, the man has claimed he is a legal resident with a 10-year tourist visa; Babeu has denied threatening to have him sent back to Mexico.
Kolbe stopped short of calling the deportation allegation a pretext for outing Babeu, but did say that “from the beginning it looked to me very sketchy, the whole thing.”
Before allegations surfaced against Babeu, the sheriff was trouncing his primary opponent, incumbent Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, in fundraising numbers. In the fourth quarter of 2011, Babeu was the only congressional primary challenger in the United States to outraise an incumbent Republican.
Gosar released a scathing statement Thursday, saying, “I find it incomprehensible that Paul Babeu is attempting to take the position of a victim to garner national sympathy for this self-created scandal.”
Gosar alleged that Babeu’s ex-boyfriend was illegally residing in the country with his 10-year tourist visa, and said he was “grateful” for an investigation launched by the state attorney general.
“The real issue is not this, it’s whether he is qualified to be a congressperson, and I think he is,” said Kolbe, who added that Babue “is a good person.”
Babeu and Kolbe have known each other since the 2008 McCain presidential campaign, the former congressman said. In one text message photographed by the New Times, Babeu texted his then boyfriend that he was visiting Kolbe and staying overnight at his house.
Kolbe said that he knew Babeu was gay before it was publicly revealed, but declined to say if he advised him on how to handle public disclosure of that fact.
“My general view has always been to be out front on these things and proactive, not to wait for them and be reactive in this type of situation,” said Kolbe, declining to specifically address his conversations with Babeu.
The Republican Party has grown more accepting of gay people, Kolbe said, describing increased social tolerance as “a generational thing, not a partisan thing.”
Kolbe, however, sees the ascendancy of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the presidential race as potential trouble for the party. “I certainly disagree with his positions,” Kolbe said, adding that Santorum’s nomination “would be very detrimental to our chances in the fall election.”
The former congressman has endorsed Mitt Romney for president and says that his days in Congress are firmly behind him. “Oh God, no, I’m not running for Congress again,” he said.
A Thursday report at Politico.com noted that Babeu has raised $14,000 in the past week. “Political opponents have pitched this story in desperation,” a campaign adviser said.
A spokeswoman for Gosar’s campaign, however, told TheDC that Babeu is attempting to inaccurately portray the accusations as coming from a “jilted ex-boyfriend” looking for revenge, to “sweep it under the rug.”
“We find it offensive that he’s using his sexual orientation” to deflect the charges, she said. “If he was in a heterosexual relationship and tried to deport his ex-girlfriend,” that would be a serious issue, she added.
The Gosar spokeswoman promised revelations of “other abuses,” alleging that Babeu has been “using official resources for his campaign.”
Babeu will face Gosar and state Sen. Ron Gould in the 4th District’s August 28 primary. A Feb. 18 poll, conducted by Arizona Capitol Reports two days after the initial exposé, found Babeu leading with 30 percent of the vote to Gosar’s 26 percent and Gould’s 17 percent. A subsequent poll conducted on Tuesday, however, found Gosar taking the lead with 30 percent of the vote to Babeu’s 25 percent and Gould’s 20 percent.