Online Extra: Political Notes: Karger to make presidential bid official
by Matthew S. Bajko
Southern California resident Fred Karger is preparing to make his presidential campaign official. In talks to appear on a television show for the announcement later this month, Karger would be the first GOP candidate to enter the 2012 race.
He would also be the first openly gay candidate to seek the nomination of a major political party as its presidential candidate. Karger, 61, has spent the last year exploring a presidential bid, crisscrossing the country to drum up support and attention.
[UPDATE: After the online Political Notes column was posted Monday, Karger announced he would file Wednesday, March 23. After turning over his paperwork to the Federal Election Commission, he issued a statement in which he dedicated his doing so to half a dozen youth who recently committed suicide after being the victims of bullies.
"After spending 35 years in politics behind the scenes, I want to be a participant and help shape the debate in the Republican Party and our nation," stated Karger. "While I intend to talk about many important issues, I dedicate today to the 6 teenagers who took their lives this past fall because they were bullied for who they were. They could not go on living for even one more day."]
Many LGBT leaders have deemed his aspirations a farce or a political stunt. But Karger, a former political consultant at the Dolphin Group, whose clients have included former Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and the senior George Bush, has been attracting media attention both nationally and in key primary states.
He has become a fixture in the press in Iowa, where he has battled his being excluded from debates and forums with other potential candidates. And the Washington Post sent a reporter to follow him around New Hampshire – another early battleground state on the road to the Republican nomination – for three days this winter that turned into a relatively flattering profile in its Style section.
The news coverage has begun to elicit financial support for Karger. Last week he flew into San Francisco to attend a dinner hosted by a local libertarian whose invite was prompted by the Post's story.
While in town, Karger sat down with the Bay Area Reporter to discuss his campaign. He said he and his attorney, former Equality California board president Cary Davidson, had pulled papers this month to transition from having an exploratory committee to being a full-fledged candidate for the White House.
"They gave me the thumbs up to file," said Karger, who gained notoriety in LGBT circles in the Golden State after he publicly came out in 2006 during his campaign to save Long Beach gay nightspot the Boom Boom Room and later launched Californians Against Hate amid the battle to defeat Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban passed in 2008. "I am working on the financial disclosures and will be filing the paperwork in the near future. I will do it with some fanfare."
Karger said he plans to make his presidential bid official before April 1. He also revealed he is in talks with a television show to make the announcement but wouldn't reveal which one. Most likely it is either The Daily Show or The Colbert Report on Comedy Central.
In the meantime he is ramping up his campaign team, now at five part-time and two full-time staffers. He is also looking to rent a house in Manchester, New Hampshire.
This week he is in Washington, D.C. for meetings, including with the CEO of the online news site Politico. He is angling to be invited to the first presidential primary debate of the 2012 election cycle to be held Monday, May 2 at the Reagan Library. Politico's editor-in-chief and NBC's Brian Williams are slated to moderate.
But as of now, none of the candidates expected to seek the GOP nomination have agreed to take part. Nor does Karger know if he will be allowed on stage if the debate does take place.
If he is snubbed, "I would be hurt," said Karger, considering he worked on Reagan's campaigns.
Based on the 2008 presidential campaign, Karger said he expects there to be 18 major debates or forums leading up to the GOP nomination. He is working to see that he participates in as many as he can.
"My whole strategy is to get into those debates," said Karger.
So far, though, he isn't having much luck. He was shut out of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition's March 7 Forum, prompting him to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.
"Anytime I do one of these it puts the other forums and debates on notice. For all 18 I am working on meeting their requirements," he said.
He is trying to meet the criteria the Des Moines Register sets for candidates to be included in its debate. He already has a staff person and a campaign headquarters in Iowa and needs to have at least 1 percent support in polls, said Karger.
One of his biggest hurdles could be the man the Republican National Committee has tapped to oversee the party's debates: James Bopp. The Indiana-based lawyer is representing Protectmarriage.com, the group behind Prop 8, in its lawsuit against California officials in order not to have to report the names of donors to its campaign.
Bopp deposed Karger in that lawsuit, which is expected to be heard by the federal district court in Sacramento this August. The two are also at odds in a Maine lawsuit Karger filed against the National Organization for Marriage, another Bopp client.
"I will ask the leadership of the RNC to remove him," said Karger.
It is sure to bring Karger even more media attention, which is part of his plan. He said he is fully aware he has little chance of being nominated by the GOP as its presidential candidate next year. His real aim, he said, is to force the field of Republican candidates to address issues such as same-sex marriage and other LGBT rights.
"I am not delusional. I don't think I am going to be the nominee," said Karger. "I am doing to this get into those debates."
He also hopes his entrance in the race will send a message to young people struggling with their sexuality.
"I guess the real reason I am doing what I am doing is for younger people. If some kid in Georgia is struggling with his sexual orientation or some girl in New Mexico is struggling with her sexual orientation, they can turn on the TV and see an openly gay candidate wearing a rainbow flag next to the American flag pin up there on stage," said Karger. "That is a powerful message."
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