In Fred Karger's Presidential Run, GOP Stands for Gay Old Party

The OC resident and onetime Republican hatchet man hopes his quixotic campaign can push his party to become more gay-friendly

The crowd explodes in hearty, lingering laughter at the absurdity of such discrimination.

At LCR events, military service is cherished. Indeed, a handful in attendance served in the military, including Cooper, a decorated combat veteran. He says his group is determined to fight efforts to "repeal the repeal . . . [of an] arbitrary and capricious" DADT policy.

But, according to LCR members, there are enemies in the Republican Party—including fellow gay conservatives—who thrive on sabotaging any gains. They also say some GOP officials privately express support for gay rights, but they vote with the right wing because of electoral fears. It's becoming conventional wisdom that a way around this problem is to put natural allies in key government jobs.

Karger served as a senior campaign 
adviser to three U.S. presidents
including Gerald R. Ford
Karger served as a senior campaign adviser to three U.S. presidents including Gerald R. Ford
Roy Ashburn: "Truly sorry" for anti-gay legislative work
Mark Graham
Roy Ashburn: "Truly sorry" for anti-gay legislative work

"We are stepping up our game," says Cooper. "We need Log Cabin Republicans to run for public office."

*     *     *

Karger—a "proud" LCR member—isn't a typical wannabe politician. Most candidates, especially ones aiming for the nation's top job, are guarded; spew nothing but canned, poll-tested answers; try to appear invincible and brilliant; and nervously keep an army of professional PR flacks nearby to intervene at the slightest hint of trouble.

Within minutes of my meeting him, Karger tells a self-deprecating story, shares his personal calendar (kept in a Ziploc bag inside a black-leather satchel), asks for campaign advice, admits he's "still forming" policy positions, describes a campaign supporter as "so cute," and—though he's wearing a suit—eagerly agrees to play Frisbee inside the hotel's hallways.

"Other campaigns say Fred is having too much fun," observes Miniter. "They are all so stuffy."

My Frisbee toss sails high and wide. Karger darts 12 feet, jumps while yelling, "Yes!" and makes a remarkable fingertip catch.

"See?" Miniter intones.

Later, Karger—who created a colorful-if-unsuccessful 2006 effort to prevent the closing of the Boom Boom Room, the famous oceanfront gay bar in Laguna Beach—admits, "I like to have fun."

The theme of his campaign T-shirts and first TV commercials spoofs his anonymity: "Fred Who?"

But this lean, 61-year-old Chicago-area native who has never held elective office says campaign objectives are earnest. Karger rolls his eyes at the mention of Bob Dornan, an angry homophobe and, in 1996, the last Orange County resident to seek the GOP nomination. Running as a gay man is "a gigantic step" that "sends a powerful message," especially if he appears in televised forums.

Frank Ricchiazzi, who helped to start LCR, is cheering on his friend.

"Fred can break down stereotypes that all gay men are big, liberal lefties," he says. "He's a fiscal conservative who happens to be gay."

So far, however, establishment Republicans have blocked Karger from forums—even though nobody has campaigned more than he has in Iowa and New Hampshire, the sites of the first two 2012 presidential-nominating contests eight months from now.

Conservatives in South Carolina told Karger they might allow him to participate in an early May presidential debate if he got at least 1 percent in national polls. (He was ultimately not included in the May 5 debate.)

Polling firms weren't mentioning Karger's name in surveys. But Miniter convinced FOX News to include his boss in a late April poll. The result? "I got the 1 percent," Karger crows.

"Who would be happy with 1 percent?" he asks. "Well, me! It's a start!"

(He was right. In later weeks, he cracked 1 percent in three other national polls: CNN, Zogby and ABC News/Washington Post.)

Says Ric Grenell, an LCR member and the longest-serving U.S. spokesman at the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, "You've got to love Fred. He's out front for us."

Karger attributes his upbeat attitude to Ronald Reagan.

"Reagan had a huge influence on me," says Karger. "I ran his PAC, helped his inaugural committees and worked on his election campaigns. My campaign theme is very Reaganesque. It's 'Bringing Back the American Spirit.' He would have liked it. It's about optimism and the ability to get along."

He's espousing a platform that's pro-gay, low-tax, pro-choice and limited-government, heavy on "fiscal conservatism with a libertarian bent." During a campaign stop, a Christian Coalition-supporter sarcastically told Karger, "I'll pray for you." At other times, he's encountered "chilly, cold" receptions.

"A lot of people in the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender] community don't like me because I have a big R on my forehead," says Karger. "And a lot of the Republican establishment aren't too keen on me because I have a big G on my forehead."

Karger isn't shy about taking digs at Democrats or Republicans. He says Obama "is taking the country in the wrong direction" and, a big no-no in Karger's book, "is uninspiring—depressing, really." He also slams potential opponents such as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. He's proud that an April college straw poll in New Hampshire put him on top over Romney, the presumed GOP frontrunner. "I bet that got under his skin," he says, laughing. "Beaten by the gay guy."

In February, a Washington Post profile described Karger as "nice."

"I wear that as a badge of honor," he says. "I happen to think of myself that way. Unless you cross me and my community."

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