Fred Karger is on the cusp of officially running for president, which will make him the first openly gay presidential candidate of any major U.S. political party. This is no stunt: Karger has already visited New Hampshire 11 times in the past year — more than any other likely 2012 contender — and made five trips to Iowa. He's also hired staff, held town halls, and launched a TV ad campaign. Let's take a look:
Who is Karger?
The 61-year-old has never held elected office, but he is, like Karl Rove, a protege of GOP strategist Lee Atwater. As a political consultant for 27 years, Karger served three Republican presidents — Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes — and fought anti-smoking measures for Big Tobacco firms. He also worked on the infamous Willie Horton attack ad that helped sink Democrat Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential bid.
When did he come out?
Publicly, in 2006, a couple of years after he retired. Before that, he remained closeted at work throughout his consulting career, and "it was hell," he says. "I would go to gay pride parades and always look for cameras, and hide in the background."
What is his platform?
It's still "rickety," with few details on the budget and health care, says Dan Zak in The Washington Post. But it includes a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age, a proposal to make school "more interesting," and support for abortion rights and gay marriage. Karger himself explains, "I believe in smaller federal government and personal responsibility just like my hero, Ronald Reagan."
Is Karger a serious candidate?
He's a long shot, to say the least. Still, he's putting his money where his mouth is, burning each month through $20,000 to $30,000 of his ample retirement savings until he can start serious fundraising.
Why is he running, exactly?
"I am doing this for the younger people," Karger says, especially gay kids. Like Hillary Clinton or Jesse Jackson, he says he wants to blaze a new, important trail. If he can get in the Republican presidential debates — a big if — "I will take the gloves off if necessary," and challenge his fellow candidates on their gay rights positions, he says. "That is what motivates me to make my voice heard. No more Mr. Nice Gay."