Fred Karger is a busy guy for someone who only recently retired from 30 years as a Republican political consultant. He’s spent the last few years fighting with the Mormon Church and the National Organization for Marriage over gay marriage. He tried to “Save the Boom,” a historic gay bar in Laguna Beach shut down by a billionaire. And now, it seems, he’s ready to run for president.
Karger made the announcement official today in New Orleans, where he has joined with most of the other aspiring Republican presidential contenders at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. When I last saw him in DC, he was preparing for the big day by making up some lapel pins featuring both the American and the gay pride flag. “Every candidate needs a flag pin,” he explained with a laugh. No word yet on how they’re going over with the not-so-gay friendly crowd in NOLA. But Karger is taking his run seriously. He’s already made some scouting trips to New Hampshire, where, he once joked to me, he could clinch the nomination if only he could fall in love with a local guy and get married. (Gay marriage is legal in New Hampshire.) And Karger, a master of opposition research who helped bring down Michael Dukakis with the Willie Horton connection, has already started attacking one of his main opponents for the Republican nomination: Mitt Romney.
Last month, Karger organized a protest at a Mormon book store in San Diego where Romney was signing copies of his book, and he also ran newspaper ads during Romney’s recent visit to Iowa, urging readers to call Romney to ask him to “urge the Mormon Church to stop its nasty campaign to ban gay marriage.” Karger thinks Romney is in a good position to get the church to back off its multi-million campaigns to ban gay marraige in California and elsewhere, and hopes, perhaps a little optimistically, that Romney will rediscover his concern for gay rights. Romney had a long record of seeking gay supporers, even winning an endorsement from the Log Cabin Republicans back in 1994 when he ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy. But Romney quickly recanted those views when he ran for president in 2008. Karger figures that his presidential run gives him a chance to call Romney to the carpet for the flip-flop. Meanwhile, he hopes that as the first gay Jewish Republican presidential candidate, he can do for gay rights what Shirley Chisholm did for African-Americans. Read more about Fred and his colorful life here, in a piece from our most recent print magazine.