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Fred Karger
Aug. 6, 2010  in Washington, DC

 fred karger photo

Fred Karger, 60, is best known as founder and director of Californians Against Hate, the independent effort against Prop. 8 in 2008. Before that, he had worked for close to three decades as a Republican consultant and strategist.  In April 2010 Karger launched a presidential exploratory effort at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans [statement].

Over the years there have been many longshot presidential campaigns that ultimately have not had much impact.  One naturally has considerable skepticism about these unknown candidates.  For example, on the Republican side, Titan International CEO Morry Taylor ("the Grizz") spent millions in 1995-96 and in 1999 Illinois businessman John Cox spent close to $1 million.

Karger's bid, if he runs, could be significantly different than those campaigns.  While the Taylor and Cox efforts seemed largely ego driven, Karger is driven by a cause.  He would be first openly gay candidate to seek the nomination of a major political party as its presidential candidate. 

Karger stands apart not only as a gay Republican, but as a moderate who is pro-choice.  In an era when Republican candidates often seek to outdo each other when it comes to their conservative bona fides, a Karger candidacy could result in some interesting situations.  In May, for example, Karger received an e-mail from Iowa RNC committeeman Steve Scheffler stating, “...I will work overtime to help ensure that your political aspirations are aborted right here in Iowa.”  Other Republicans have disavowed that view, but a Karger candidacy would still run counter to prevailing tendencies in the party.  Karger's unique track could give him staying power. 

Karger's decades of experience working as a strategist and consultant should prove useful.  His presidential exploratory effort has the catchy slogan "Fred Who?" and it already has many of the trappings of a full blown campaign including "Fred Who?" tee-shirts, lapel stickers, flag pins, and "the much sought after" Fred Frisbees which he plans to distribute throughout New Hampshire. 

New Hampshire is clearly a central part of Karger's strategy; he has already made four trips there (>), he has found quite a few people willing to help, and he even plans to rent a house there.  At this point, however, he is the only game in town (the only one to have established a committee), and he'll have to think carefully about pacing himself, for the primary is still 18 months off.

Karger envisages that if he can raise $5-6 million dollars, he can wage a credible campaign that could achieve a breakthrough in the way the campaigns of Shirley Chisolm and Jesse Jackson did for black Americans.

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Democracy in Action interviewed Fred Karger over a light lunch at the Park Hyatt.  Karger and travelling aide Kevin Miniter had just driven down from Baltimore where he was attending the Equality Federation's Summer Meeting.  He also recently finished his fourth New Hampshire trip.

In Part 1 of the interview I wanted to get a sense of Karger's political experience from his first political memory to his various experiences in presidential campaigns.  Karger started out in volunteer roles when he was growing up in a suburb of Chicago in the mid-1960s.  In the mid-1970s he moved to California where he worked with and learned from Bill Roberts, the consultant who managed Reagan's 1966 gubernatorial campaign.  Karger worked at The Dolphin Group from 1977 to 2004.  He has had small roles on nine presidential campaigns.  Particularly interesting, in 1984 he followed Mondale around running the RNC's Republican Fact and Information Store, and in 1988 he headed up an independent committee that travelled with the Willie Horton victims.  Karger is a rare breed, a moderate Republican, harkening back to figures like Sen. Chuck Percy and Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, yet he still names Ronald Reagan as a leader whom he admires most. 

In Part 2, Karger talks about the origins of his exploratory effort.  He describes himself as a frustrated candidate who couldn't run because of his "deepest darkest secret" and says that coming out has freed him.  I wanted to get behind the scenes a bit and find out and what an individual does when one is exploring a president campaign and the sorts of people one talks to.  Karger discusses some of his meetings, and it's clear there is a lot of networking involved.  Karger describes himself as an "Independent Republican" and sees himself "transpartisan" figure able to bridge the partisan divide so evident in American politics today.  The interview takes a slight detour into the question of whether politics is broken but then gets back into the nuts and bolts of the exploratory effort.  Karger is already planning to run his first ad, "Good Morning, New Hampshire."