Dark horse Karger serious about presidential bid

Fred Karger speaks during the Log Cabin Republicans National Convention at the Hilton Anatole on April 29. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Openly gay candidate has Republican political experience that dates back to Gerald Ford and Reagan’s ’84 campaign

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Fred Karger made history when he became not only the first gay candidate to register a run for the White House with the Federal Elections Commission, but also the first Jewish person ever to pursue the Republican nomination.

While he’s proud to be both, during a recent visit to Dallas Karger said he wants to “put the gay thing behind me.”

He said he looks forward to an article about his run for president that identified him as simply a presidential candidate rather than the gay presidential candidate.

Karger was in Dallas for the national Log Cabin Republicans convention held at the Anatole Hotel last weekend. He addressed the group at the opening meeting on Friday, April 29.

Karger was in Dallas looking for Log Cabin support, saying he wants them “to go out on a limb for me.”

While Karger understands his chances of receiving the Republican nomination are slim, he said he is running a serious campaign, and he hopes to be the first presidential candidate to receive an endorsement from the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

Karger said he plans to participate in the debates, hoping to use his time to temper the anti-gay rhetoric of his party’s other presidential hopefuls.

And in a way, his campaign is a grand “It Gets Better” video. He said his visits to gay straight alliances and meetings with college groups around the country encouraged him to run so he could show LGBT youth that they can achieve anything. In his press release announcing his candidacy, Karger dedicated the day to the six gay teens who took their lives last fall.

Since forming his campaign committee a few weeks ago, Karger said he has made headway in the polls. In a Fox News poll out last week, Karger got 1 percent. That’s ahead of Buddy Roemer, Rudy Giuliani and Haley Barbour, all considered serious possibilities.

The poll was important to Karger, who wanted to be included in the first Republican, debate, sponsored by Fox News and held in South Carolina on Thursday night. To be included, he needed to be at 1 percent in five polls, to have a presidential committee or exploratory committee and pay a $25,000 entrance fee.

At this point, Karger is the only Republican with a campaign committee who is registered with the FEC. Several other candidates are in the exploratory stage.

He has ranked high enough in several polls, including two by Huffington Post. In a March 31 Saint Anselm College Republicans straw poll he finished first, ahead of Mitt Romney, and with three times the votes of Donald Trump, Tim Pawlenty or Ron Paul, and 10 times the votes of Mike Huckabee.

However, the Republican Party excluded Karger while allowing candidates like Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza.

Karger said the Saint Anselm poll is significant to him because that school is in New Hampshire, the state with the first primary.

Karger spent his career as a political strategist and his strategy in this election is to take the first primary and caucus states — Iowa and New Hampshire, both of which legally recognize same-sex marriage. Both are also heavily independent — 42 percent in New Hampshire and 37 percent in Iowa.

Karger said that people have left both parties in those states, but mostly the Republican Party because his party has moved too far to the right.

Karger has the background to be taken as a credible candidate by Republicans. He ran Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign, and he worked with Lee Atwater on the Willie Horton ads that helped propel George H.W. Bush into the White House.

Karger was also part of the Gerald Ford campaign committee.

Dolphin Group, Karger’s political consulting firm, has worked on hundreds of local and state elections for Republicans around the country for more than 30 years, he said.

After selling Dolphin Group, Karger became a different type of political activist.

When California’s Proposition 8 got on the ballot challenging same-sex marriage, Karger founded Californians Against Hate.

He initiated boycotts, including one targeting the Hyatt in San Diego whose owner was a major funder of Prop 8. It cost the company $1 million per month, according to the hotel’s own estimate.

Karger investigated the power of the Mormon Church in influencing votes, and after a 19-month investigation, the church was found guilty on 13 counts of campaign reporting violations.

That was the first time the California Fair Political Practices Commission had found a religion guilty of election irregularities.

“No one has gone against NOM like I have,” Karger said.

Karger noted that he battled Maggie Gallagher and the National Organization for Marriage and helped uncover their disregard for Maine’s election laws. NOM was ordered to follow election law and disclose its political contributors.

“Maggie Gallagher has blood on her hands,” Karger said, blaming the hate from her organization for the deaths of gay teens.

He called her disgusting and said he wonders why, if she believes in traditional marriage so much, she doesn’t wear a wedding ring.

“She a walking time bomb,” Karger said of Gallagher’s behavior.

Karger hardly sounds like a typical Republican when he discusses LGBT equality issues and he supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election. So he explained why he still calls himself a Republican.

“I grew up with Nelson Rockefeller,” he said. “I still believe in the principles of the Republican Party,” such as “keeping government out of our lives.”

And, he said, staying out of our lives includes allowing a woman the right to choose.

“I’m strong on national defense,” Karger added. “I’m a strong law and order guy.”

Rockefeller is best known as the governor who built New York’s state university system, and education is a top priority for Karger.

Karger said he wants to bring back that GOP of yesterday.

“I know there are a lot of dissatisfied centrists,” he said, and that’s who he’s appealing to.

He said he has planned his attack on his Republican opponents.

He’s going after Romney’s ties to the Mormon Church.

Just as Mike Dukakis was vulnerable on the release of Willie Horton, a prisoner who committed violent felonies after his parole, he said Huckabee should be too. Huckabee released Maurice Clemmons who later killed four police officers.

“Huckabee never showed remorse,” he said.

And without fanfare, presidential candidate Karger put his birth certificate on his website. He said he figures Donald Trump would find other things to attack him on, so why give him this one.

While running, he especially wants gay youth to hear his message.

“Come out to family, friends, coworkers,” he said.

—  John Wright