Longtime GOP strategist and Laguna Beach gay activist Fred Karger officially entered the 2012 presidential contest this past Wednesday, the first openly gay candidate for the nation’s highest office in history, his spokeswoman announced.
In filing paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, Karger, 61, also becomes the first candidate seeking the Republican Party’s nomination, a front-running move by a long-shot political veteran sure to be joined by other equally ambitious GOP prospects. Among those believed to be jockeying for the chance to go head to head against President Obama are a more recognized field that includes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Mississippi’s Gov. Haley Barbour.
While Karger has never run for elected office, his 35-years behind-the-scenes working for the party’s cause brings considerable political and campaign experience. He has managed dozens of campaigns, worked on nine presidential campaigns including as senior consultant with President’s Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Gerald Ford.
“I want to be a participant and help shape the debate in the Republican Party and our nation,” said Karger in a statement, dedicating his effort to six gay teens who took their lives in the last year because they were bullied.
Though Karger promises to outline new ideas on many issues to revive Reagan-era optimism, he said, “I want to send a loud and clear message to anyone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer, that you can do anything you want to do in this country. You can even run for president of the United States.”
It remains to be seen whether Karger can successfully tap his natural allies in the gay community to bankroll a hugely expensive national campaign. A spokeswoman said he has sought support from R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative gay group. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
“It’s hard to step up nationally when he hasn’t even conquered the city,” said Wayne Peterson, an openly gay former Laguna Beach City Council member. “He has no base.”
Since his retirement at age 53 in 2004, however, Karger redirected his career expertise to his personal cause, wielding his prowess at opposition research for gay causes. The first was an ultimately losing battle to halt closure of The Boom Boom Room, a historic gay bar in his hometown of Laguna Beach. In 2008, he organized Californians Against Hate, successfully inciting boycotts of individuals that supported the state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Last June, Karger’s complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission found its mark and resulted in a fine of $5,539 against the Mormon Church for failing to disclose in a timely manner making late non-monetary contributions totaling $36,928 in support of California’s Prop. 8, the gay marriage ban approved by voters in the Nov. 4, 2008, general election.
His quixotic quest has earned national media attention, including February profiles in The Washington Post and England’s Guardian. The Post story described a glimpse of Karger’s campaign, which included giving his stump speech to 25 college students in a basement at the University of New Hampshire and to a dozen Dartmouth College Republicans.
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