Gay Republican Fred Karger, who's based in Southern California, has been stirring things up on the campaign trail this year, seeking the Republican nomination for president. The uber-underdog Karger is not going to get it — candidate Mitt Romney will get the nod. But he's still on the ballot for California's June 5 Republican primary, and he wants your vote.
Karger, who's the first openly gay candidate for president, answered a few questions for us about his dark horse campaign and what he really thinks about his rivals and not-so-gay-friendly politicians Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.
L.A. Weekly: What is Mitt Romney really like? And will you support him no matter what as the Republican candidate for president?
Fred Karger: I cannot support any candidate who signed the [anti-gay] National Organization for Marriage's “Marriage Pledge.” In a recent guest column for the Guardian, I asked Romney to disavow the NOM Pledge he signed, but he did not. He seems very mechanical when I have met him. [Wife] Ann Romney, on the other hand, is quite nice.
Weekly: Why are you still in this race? What's the point? Mitt Romney has won.
Karger: Mitt Romney clinched the Republican nomination as we knew he would. I am honored to be on the California and Utah ballots on June 5 and June 26 respectively. This is very significant since I was invited to be on both state ballots. In California by Debra Bowen the Secretary of State and in Utah by the Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright.
As the first openly gay candidate to run for president from a major political party, I feel an obligation to compete in these primaries. I also feel that voters need an alternative to Mitt Romney. I have a message to deliver on my ideas to turn the economy around, opening up the Republican Party, and to continue to be a strong advocate for LGBT issues.
Weekly: Have Republicans softened up on gay rights issues? Has your presence on the campaign trail made some kind of impact on Republicans in terms of how they view homosexuality?
Karger: The Republican party used to be the civil rights party, beginning with our first Republican president Abraham Lincoln. Theodore Roosevelt was a real champion of civil rights 100 years ago, and so were many other Republicans leaders over time.
The GOP has clearly lost its way. I hope that the tens of thousands of people that I have met, the tens of thousands more that I have spoken to, and all others who have heard my message, have a better understanding of what it was like to grow up gay as I tell my story and also talk about inclusion. The fact that I have been so active behind the scenes in Republican politics is a real eye-opener to many of the people that I meet.
Weekly: What's been the biggest surprise running in the Republican primaries?
Karger: I have actually been very well received by nearly all of the leadership of the GOP from Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus on down. He met with me in his office along with the Vice Chair Sharon Day and the RNC Chief of Staff Jeff Larson the day before I filed for president in March of last year.
The RNC has listed me as one of 11 candidates to be included on state ballots and has availed all their research, voter lists, and included us in candidate meetings.
Weekly: Honestly, what is anti-gay politician Rick Santorum like?
Karger: I have met Rick several times and he was always very pleasant. We'd run into him a lot in Iowa and New Hampshire. At the New Hampshire Republican Party dinner in Concord last year, after trading some Iowa stories, he leaned back and said to me, “You're having fun aren't you?” I thought for a second and said, “Yes.”
Weekly: What's something that happened to you on the campaign trail that inspired you or changed your life in some way?
Karger: When I was walking in the Occupy New Hampshire demonstration the weekend before the New Hampshire primary this year, a 15-year-old girl came up to me and held my hand. She did not tell me her name, but told me her age and that she was gay.
She had come to meet me and thank me for what I was doing. She said that I had a big impact on her and her struggle. We held hands and cried together. That moment will stay with me forever.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.