GOP hopeful Fred Karger visits CMU; first openly gay man to seek nomination

Chuck Miller/Staff Photographer Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger speaks to students Tuesday night in Anspach 169. Karger is the first openly gay presidential candidate and is one of six Republicans who will be on the ballot.

Fred Karger was not followed into Anspach Hall on Tuesday evening by a swarm of assistants and photographers.

Neither would one suspect, just by looking at him, that he is the first openly gay man to seek the nomination for president of the United States from either of the two major political parties.

"I do everything the big campaigns do but on a more limited basis," Karger said. "Everything’s done differently — you don’t see the big entourage; you don’t see the national press with me."

Karger spoke at 9 p.m. Tuesday in Anspach 169 to members of the College Republicans and Spectrum.

Karger, a California native, said when he first decided he wanted to run for president, he kept it to himself. Though he has worked on many presidential campaigns, including those of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, he has never held a political office, according to his website.

He said he always wanted to run for a political position but was never able to before.

"I knew I could never run ... because I was gay, just like I would go to dozens and dozens of weddings for friends and relatives and I just knew as I would sit there, or be standing up or something, that I would never get married," he said.

Karger said things have changed since he started his career in the early '70s. After he retired from his long career as a political consultant in 2004, he spent time as a gay rights activist in California, opposing Proposition 8, which banned same-sex couples from marrying in the state.

Being a vocal opponent for Proposition 8 meant Karger had to publicly come out, he said.

"(Publicly coming out) normally wouldn’t affect someone who was gay — I mean, my family knew, my coworkers knew, close friends and everything, but it wasn’t public. And because I’d had a fairly high-profile life in politics it became a little more interesting. So I did that, but it was very difficult for me," he said.

He said he had the idea to run for president after he had come out and received widespread attention because of his work against Proposition 8, which included launching a boycott against a hotel mogul who donated to the pro-Proposition 8 campaign.

Karger visited Washington, D.C. and New York City and decided not to run for president.

But then, he said, he visited the University of New Hampshire.

"The first night there, I met up with these 35 or 40 students from the (University's) Gay Straight Alliance, and they were in a room about half the size (of Anspach 150) or less on the floor," he said.

At the start of his speech, he said, the students were a little apprehensive, because they did not know who he was.

"But I told my story, and I guess they were kind of in awe that a gay man could run for president of the United States. I got all these Facebook messages and emails, and I did a reversal and decided I would run," he said.

Karger said his campaign found out last week that he would be placed on the ballot in California — the five others being Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Buddy Roemer, who is a former Louisiana governor and Congressman.

Karger has recently been placed on the ballot for Michigan as well, which he said opened the door to be placed on the ballot in North Carolina, Maryland and Puerto Rico.

At the speech he gave on Tuesday, he marketed himself as a moderate Republican. He said his moderate views and willingness to compromise set him apart from the other candidates. He said compromising is a skill he learned from his mentor, Ronald Reagan, who told Karger that if he got 80 percent of what he wanted, he was happy.

"I think it’s a new paradigm for the Republican Party. I’d like to see more moderate Republicans on social issues but still preaching this fiscally conservative platform. I think that’s where the Republicans are going in the future, and Fred Karger is ahead of his time," said Macomb junior Justin Gawronski, president of Spectrum.

Karger has been visiting colleges around Michigan trying to garner support. He said he has visited Adrian, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan and has more colleges to visit in the coming weeks.

He said he will be going after Democrats to vote in the Republican primaries since Michigan does not have closed primaries like many other states. He said Democrats should vote for him, because he has a lot of the same social values and understands the need to be inclusive and compromise to resolve Congressional deadlock.

"I thought he (showed) a lot of courage. I mean, I've been involved in Republican politics, and it’s a very unfriendly place for the gay/lesbian/transgender community," said Clinton Township senior Stephanie Jaczkowski. "And so I think him just going out there and going straight for the presidential ticket shows a lot of courage and that he really believes his economic message. That was the best part of the whole thing. We haven’t heard anybody come out on this and say ‘the economy is what’s wrong.’ That's Mitt Romney's platform, but it’s not like Fred, who just comes out and just goes right at it and wants to cut out whatever needs to be cut out"