In a final campaign gesture, Laguna Beach resident and Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger stopped in at his polling place Tuesday during this week’s primary election. When Karger’s campaign van, emblazoned with his name and image, dropped him off at Fire Station # 2 on the corner of Agate and Glenneyre Streets, voters were scarce, reflecting a countywide turnout of 20 percent.
Even so, Laguna’s own presidential hopeful graciously greeted the members of the local press who awaited his arrival. Karger had already voted by absentee ballot, but he wanted to stop in at his precinct to thank the volunteers and check to see his name on the list.
Karger succeeded in keeping his campaign alive for two years on a shoestring budget, canvassing neighborhoods and handing out frisbees, though he did run a few local ads in California over the last month. Still, he was realistic about his prospects, hoping to come out ahead of Buddy Roemer, a former congressman and Louisiana governor who withdrew his long-shot bid as an independent candidate last month.
When the results were in, Karger garnered 598 votes, or .3 percent of the vote in Orange County, and 6,482 votes, or .4 percent statewide, compared to Roemer’s .5 percent and .7 percent, respectively. Earlier in the year in Iowa and New Hampshire, where Karger also burned up a lot of shoe leather, the candidate earned a similar percentage of votes.
In truth, the race for the GOP candidate was over with the Texas primary last week, which handed the nomination to Mitt Romney. Any chance of a long-shot bid ended even earlier for Karger, who understood his electoral chances depended on inclusion in one of the televised debates, an opportunity that eluded his best efforts.
To be sure, Karger maintains his candidacy was never just about the Republican nomination. Which is why his van will be heading to Utah for three weeks of campaigning there before he parks it in a garage.
“I’m a bit of a political junkie,” admitted the 62-year-old former political consultant who became the first openly gay Republican presidential candidate when he officially entered the race in March 2010. In his 27 years of advocating for others, Karger himself stayed out of the public eye. As a then closeted gay, he wasn’t ready to be outed.
That all changed when he retired and took up gay activism in 2006 with his campaign to “Save the Boom,” the legendary gay Laguna Beach nightclub that closed in 2007. After that, he put up a fight against Prop. 8, the 2008 California ballot initiative to make same-sex marriage illegal, by launching Californians Against Hate five months before the election.
Though the proposition passed, Karger pressed on, having uncovered extensive involvement by the Mormon Church in support of the initiative. He also filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission over the church’s failure to report non-monetary contributions to the effort. He called for a similar inquiry in Maine in 2009.
Citing his own struggle to keep his sexual orientation private, Karger said his goal now is “to make it easier for others who are still struggling.”
While still fighting gay marriage opponents, Karger said he “decided to step it up a notch” and try for the Republican presidential nomination. Before his official entry into the race, he announced his potential candidacy and put out feelers. He said meeting with 40 students from the gay-straight alliance at the University of New Hampshire sealed the deal.
Since then, he said, his campaign trail’s high points involve meeting young adults, particularly gay ones, who opened up to him and thanked him for taking a stand as an openly gay presidential candidate. “I got into this for that reason…that really is my reward,” he said.
That’s why he’s still heading to Utah, despite being “worn out,” where he’ll be attending a press conference in Salt Lake City at which he said he hopes to “find some common ground” with the Mormon leaders there and will appeal to them to “stop gay bullying” in the Mormon church, which he said still encourages “reparative therapy” to reverse sexual orientation.
After that? “I’m going to stay involved in activism, and who knows where this road will lead,” said Karger.
As if he needed a reminder of the ongoing battle over gay marriage, Karger was notified this week by the state Fair Political Practices Commission’s enforcement division that his complaint sparked an investigation now underway over unreported funds raised for Prop. 8 by the National Organization for Marriage.
And, of course, there’s always the Supreme Court, where the Prop. 8 same-sex marriage fight is headed next.
Photo by Marilynn Young
Campaign director Kevin Miniter, right, documents Laguna Beach’s presidential candidate, Fred Karger, entering his home poling place in California’s primary election.