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SAN DIEGO -- Fred who?
You know, that guy running for President of the United States. The one who made history as the first-ever openly gay candidate seeking the highest office in the land. The guy who launched the humorous “Fred who?” campaign to drum up his recognition factor.
Fred Karger, the only Republican candidate for POTUS still standing other than presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, is in San Diego this week drumming up votes for California’s June 5 primary. He will be attending today’s Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast. And on Saturday, he will be leading a precinct walk through Hillcrest, starting at 1 pm at Fiesta Cantina.
Karger stopped by the San Diego Gay & Lesbian News office on Thursday afternoon to discuss his historic campaign and his plans for the future. During the free-wheeling interview, he took a swipe at his mortal enemy, Maggie Gallagher of the anti-gay hate group the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), and predicted the outcome of the Proposition 8 legal case.
The Republican Party – and Fox News – never quite knew what to do about the openly gay Karger. They set one bar for qualifications to appear on the dozens of GOP presidential debates … and even when Karger appeared to qualify, they raised the bar again. Karger -- as well as other lesser known candidates – was denied a place in the debates where he could get his message out.
“I always hoped to get in that ONE debate. Once you are in a debate, hopefully you catch fire, like Herman Cain did,” he said. “I never got that chance.
Karger filed a complaint with the FEC in a desperate attempt to get into the debates, but that government agency continues to drag its feet over the issue. Karger noted that Rick Perry got into the Iowa debate even though he had not met any of the qualifications, unlike himself, so Fox was not following its own rules.
The inability to get into the debates was harmful to his campaign, Karger said, because it denied him the ability to get out his message to a national TV audience.
Still, for the past 27 months, Karger has criss-crossed the country twice in his oversized Fredmobile van talking to Republican voters. “I made 25 trips to New Hampshire alone,” he said. “And 17 trips to Iowa.”
“Look at my face,” he quipped. “It looks like a roadmap!”
Changing hearts and minds
During his journeys into the heartland, Karger has spoken to tens and tens of thousands of people, at high schools and colleges, and at town halls, restaurants and bars.
He was invited to speak at the prestigious St. Paul’s Academy in New Hampshire, an elite school where America’s wealthy send their children to learn. He said the school’s 520 students showed up to hear him speak on Coming Out Day, and he reflected on the significance of being able to tell his personal story of coming out to students who will be the future leaders of our country.
“I hope I was able to change hearts and minds,” Karger said.
For the most part, Karger said, he was treated warmly by GOP audiences, many of whom were wary of meeting a gay Republican. Few people threatened or disrespected him. At the same time, he is painfully aware that he was not afforded equal treatment as did his heterosexual counterparts on the campaign.
“I was turned down for many opportunities that others got,” he said.
Karger said he was surprised and disappointed by the negative reaction he got from both the Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign, even though he is for marriage equality and full rights for the LGBT community – the only Republican presidential candidate who does.
He briefly got into trouble with YouTube after he uploaded his “Sexy Frisbee” ad, which ended with two young men kissing on the beach. Some unhappy viewers flagged the ad as inappropriate, and YouTube took it down. Karger said he had to appeal to parent company Google to get it reinstated the next day.
“Sexy Frisbee” made history as the first-ever political ad to feature two men kissing
Applauding President Barack Obama
Karger was the only Republican presidential candidate to salute President Barack Obama for evolving on marriage equality. “I prodded him a lot before he decided to evolve,” Karger said, noting that he wrote a number of op-ed pieces in newspapers in the U.S. and Europe, including for SDGLN.
“I’m thrilled with Obama” for evolving, Karger said.
He praised Obama for evolving on marriage a day after North Carolina voters approved a state constitutional change to ban same-sex weddings. “His timing could not have been more appropriate,” Karger said, because the nation needed to know where he stood on the issue.
Karger firmly believes that marriage equality will be a big issue in November.
“We’re still a very divided nation on that issue,” he said. “It’s an issue that stirs passion in a lot of people. … I hope that this is the last presidential election that we see it as a campaign issue.”
Karger is no fan of Mitt Romney, nor any of the other GOP candidates who fell along the campaign, except for perhaps Gary Johnson. He was highly critical of the rabidly anti-gay Rick Santorum, and believes that the former Senator from Pennsylvania is being groomed to be the 2016 GOP nominee.
Don’t hold your breath that Karger will run again in 2016. “I think this is it,” he said. “I’ve been on the road for 2 ½ years. I’ve done my part, paving the road for the next gay candidate for president!”
How the campaign changed him
Karger is the first to admit that the campaign for president has changed him: for the better.
“I’m a very different person from what I was when I started this campaign,” he said. “The people I’ve met, the stories about America that I’ve heard … these things change you. I’ve been given a much larger platform than ever before. And I was shocked at the intensity of international interest. For example, I was interviewed by David Frost for Al Jazeera English, which is broadcast in the Arab world. My voice was being heard in places where a young gay person may think he is alone in this world … in places where you can be killed for simply being gay.”
Karger remains on the ballots in California and Utah, so he will still be actively campaigning for votes until those primaries are held. “I plan to remain active in politics,” he said.
He is making future plans, but declined to be specific about that. He wants to remain head of a small organization that can quickly respond to LGBT issues, unlike, he said, the big boys like HRC or Equality California.
Obama or Romney?
Karger thinks Romney has a 50/50 chance of getting elected, based on how things are right now. Things can change in the months leading up to Election Day, he cautions.
Since he is still on the campaign trail, Karger is not ready to say how he plans to vote. “Four years ago, I supported Hillary Clinton,” the longtime Republican said.
Karger is a Republican along the lines of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, more moderate on social issues and fiscally conservative on others. By 2012 standards, he is a flaming liberal to the Tea Party faithful that has overtaken the GOP.
Maggie Gallagher and NOM and Proposition 8
One thing is clear: Karger is not going to take it easy on NOM until it ceases to exist as an anti-gay hate group.
He has investigated NOM and the Mormon church for their illegal activities in fighting against marriage equality. His exposures have put both NOM and the Mormons in a bad light, and Karger is not about to stop waging that campaign.
Recently, he was invited by Thomas Roberts of MSNBC to debate NOM’s Maggie Gallagher about same-sex marriage. He told a funny story about how he pulled up outside the studio and didn’t have enough quarters to feed the parking meter. He spied Gallagher nearby, and hit her up for quarters. “She dug deep into her purse and found a handful of quarters,” Karger said. “But I could see she was wondering whether she should give them to me.”
Gallagher did hand over eight quarters, and Karger gave her two singles. “I didn’t want to go through life beholden to her,” he said, laughing.
He says he doesn’t understand why Gallagher remains on “her high horse” when it is clear she is fighting a losing battle. He points out how a “single mom,” or “divorced mom” or whatever she is – Gallagher remains mum on her marital status, although nobody has ever seen her foreign-born husband.
Karger coined a word to describe Gallagher: “bigocrit,” a merging of bigot and hypocrite. He doesn’t believe she should have a bully pulpit to tell other people how to live their lives, when her own is in such a mess.
At length, Karger talked about how NOM and the Mormon church heavily funded the “Yes on 8” campaign that led to the passage of California’s Proposition 8. He dished on San Diegans such as Doug Manchester and Terry Caster who dug deep into their wallets to support Prop 8, and how he organized the highly successful boycott against the Manchester Grand Hyatt when it was under the ownership of Manchester.
Nothing that Manchester is now owner of the U-T San Diego, Karger quipped, “I guess I won’t get the U-T’s endorsement.”
Karger is convinced that he will get the last laugh. “Prop 8 is going down,” he vowed. “It all but over. It will go to the U.S. Supreme Court, and we will prevail. We have the best legal team of Ted Olson and David Boies. We absolutely will win it … and it will be better than a 5-4 vote.”