Check out this new story by Jon Margolis, who was the chief national political correspondent for the Chicago Tribune for more than two decades.
Fred Karger is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Really. He won’t get it. He might make things interesting.
by Jon Margolis — 13 May 2010
Ye who doubt that the 2012 presidential campaign has begun, consider this: Fred Karger campaigned in Iowa this week and spent several days in New Hampshire earlier this month.
Ah, he’s anticipated that. Those are the very words on the logo atop his web site.
The answer to that “Fred Who?” question is “Fred Karger,” a 60-year-old Illinois-bred Californian who is the first person to be openly (if, for legal-financial reasons, not yet officially) campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination.
Also the first openly gay candidate to seek the presidential nomination of either major party, ever.
Waitaminit. Did that say “gay” and “Republican,” in concert as opposed to conflict? Was there a typo involved, or at least a confusion?
Nope. Fred Karger is really a gay advocate—indeed a gay rights troublemaker—who is also really a Republican. He was raised by Republican parents. He first got active on behalf of Illinois Republican Senator Charles Percy. He’s campaigned for Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. This guy’s got GOP cred.
These days he calls himself “an old Rockefeller Republican,” fiscally conservative but socially moderate.
But there’s nothing moderate about his commitment to gay rights. Karger is the founder of Californians Against Hate, inspired by opposition to the anti-gay marriage movement behind the 2008 referendum overturning the California Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples could marry. Under Karger’s leadership, Californians Against Hate organized boycotts against businesses owned by donors to the referendum campaign, and relentlessly attacks the National Organization for Marriage, claiming that it is essentially funded by the Mormon Church.
In fact, the squabble between Karger and the NOM indirectly inspired his presidential candidacy. After Karger filed complaints against NOM with campaign finance agencies in both California and Maine (where gay marriage was also overturned by referendum), he was served with a subpoena ordering him to produce (as he wrote) “all emails, correspondence, faxes and all stored information that deal with my activities…(and ) all correspondence pertaining to three of my four web sites.”
In response, Karger and his supporters organized a “Five for Fred” campaign to raise money for his legal fees. It was so successful that he began to realize that there was a nationwide constituency he could mobilize. As a fellow who does not appear to be short of ambition and ego, he decided to mobilize it on the grandest scale possible.
Now he’s out there on the trail, doing meet-and-greets in restaurants, making speeches in hotel meeting rooms, marching in parades. He even held a press conference (though he had to crash the party and pay for the space himself) at an official Republican event—the Southern Republican Leadership Conference—in New Orleans last month.
At that press conference, Karger said he was running because “Our nation is facing tremendous challenges right now. I pledge to put new effective leadership in place to end our nation’s economic crisis. I will work tirelessly to bring back the spirit in every man, woman and child to help remake America the land of opportunity and equality for all.”
Letting the world know he can spout political pabulum like a more conventional candidate.
No, Karger is not going to be nominated by the Republicans at their convention in Tampa (in mid-summer? Who made that decision?) in the summer of 2012. But GOP bigwigs would be foolish to underestimate him. Not only is he persistent; he’s a pro. He made his money (a fair amount, it seems) as a California Republican political operative. That means he knows how to play the game, with sharp elbows if necessary (or even if not necessary, but just because it’s fun). A recent article about him in Mother Jones magazine said he was once “one of the GOP’s top dark-arts operators.” He’s not ashamed.
He worked with the late Bill Roberts, of the famed Spencer-Roberts consulting firm, in the successful 1986 recall campaign that ousted the liberal, anti-death penalty, Chief Justice Rose Bird from the California Supreme Court. He said he was also involved in the 1988 “independent expenditure” campaign that produced the commercials about Willie Horton, the convicted murderer who raped a woman while on furlough from a Massachusetts prison while Michael Dukakis was governor. Those ads were one reason Dukakis lost to George H.W. Bush. Karger is not a social moderate when it comes to the death penalty. He’s for it.
Now he’s using the same argument against a potential competitor in the 2012 race, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who reduced the sentence of Maurice Clemmons, who was then paroled in 2000. Nine years later, Clemmons killed four police officers in Lakewood, Washington.
Karger raised the Horton connection in a letter to Huckabee after Huckabee was quoted assailing the idea of gays having children, who, he said, “are not puppies,” and should not be part of “experiment.” “You have caused tremendous pain by your widely covered comments,” Karger wrote. “You owe the millions of gay and lesbian families in this country an apology.”
Karger has real public policy goals for his campaign: end the “don-ask, don’t tell” policy in the armed services. pass the federal Employment Anti-Discrimination law; eliminate the federal Defense of Marriage Act; make same-sex marriage legal across the country; try harder to find a cure for HIV/AIDS and a vaccine to prevent HIV.
But his attack on Huckabee indicates there is also a visceral element to his effort, and he doesn’t deny it. “One of my reasons for running is to keep those other candidates in line,” he said, and he will react strongly whenever another candidate “goes after my community.”
There’s one more reason Republicans should take Karger seriously. He will campaign everywhere, but he’s going to make a special effort in New Hampshire, the site of the first primary.
“I’m going to spend half my life there,” he said. “I’ll rent a house, buy a car, and conduct a massive voter registration drive.” He already has a field representative in the state.
As Karger pointed out, more than 40 percent of New Hampshire voters are independents, meaning they can vote in either party’s primary. In all likelihood, there won’t really be a Democratic primary because President Barack Obama won’t face a serious challenge for renomination. So a lot of those independents might decide to vote in the Republican primary, and some of them might decide to have a little fun and make a little trouble. New Hampshire voters do have an anarchistic stream in them.
In that context, with four or five socially conservative Republican candidates splitting the mainstream Republican vote, could Fred Karger actually win the New Hampshire primary?
Oh, probably not. But wouldn’t it make the morning-after political buzz a lot of fun?