Glencoe native Fred Karger talks about presidential run
Updated: July 29, 2012 6:53AM
The Fred Karger for President 2012 story is not the “Anybody can grow up to be President” story.
It is probably not even the “anybody has a shot” story.
It could possibly be a story that poses the question, “If a candidate with little money and name recognition and no governmental track record, but with experience, ideas and political savvy, were to run for President, could he make a dent in the primaries?”
If that’s the case, the answer to the question is No.
Otherwise, you’d now easily recognize his name, since he’s been running for the Republican nomination for President for two years.
You probably don’t, even though he grew up in Glencoe and graduated from New Trier High School, and had small parts in a few movies and TV shows as a youthful actor.
Among other roles, he played a relative of Arnold Horshack in an episode of “Welcome Back, Kotter” in 1975.
His more recent performance on the national stage — two years of draining campaigning — has resulted in no delegates to the Republican convention.
He was asked last weekend, if the real story were actually that as an openly gay, Jewish, moderate Republican, he was out there to change some minds, and wasn’t truly serious about trying to get nominated with $550,000 and a resume like that.
“No,” he said Saturday. The airing of issues was a by-product. “I really thought I had a shot.
“People were desperate for an alternative to Romney,” he said, and that could have been him.
A long-time political consultant and activist, Karger, 62, saw himself as kind of a gay version of Herman Cain. But he never had a chance to show his chops as a debater, even after Cain was chased from the stage.
He said he had the numbers in a Fox News poll to qualify for a Fox debate, but “they changed the rules.”
He fought — that’s something he does well. “I’m a slash-and-burn kind of guy.” But he didn’t win. And it’s very hard to compete when your competition is on free television almost every week, and you’re not.
Another dark horse, Rick Santorum, stepped up into the vacuum, at least for awhile. And Newt Gingrich.
Santorum, of course, insists marriage is between a man and a woman, while Karger champions the right of gay people to marry.
Santorum appealed to the conservative wing of the party. Karger was largely on his own.
Once you get past Karger’s basic fiscal conservatism, he doesn’t sound much like a Republican. He’s pro-choice, pro-marijuana legalization, supports a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, and suggests a Constitutional amendment to drop the voting age to as low as 16, to empower youth.
If only, he said, his home state of California had an open primary. He needed some Democrats.
But he’s committed to his party. And he’s got a thick skin.
He talked several times with conservative Iowa radio host Jan Mickelsen, who told him, he said, “I don’t like gay people, but I like you.”
And that’s OK with him. Anything that reduces the rhetoric, that normalizes the conversation, is good to go.
It’s beneficial to candidates with big debts to suspend their runs when it’s hopeless. Karger doesn’t have to, because he has no debt.
He paid about 85 percent of his costs from his pocket. “I’m frugal,” he said. “And I have no wife, no kids.
“And I do know how to balance a budget.”
He might have had more money to spend if he could stomach raising it.
“I’ve had a dozen or 15 fundraisers,” he said. “I hate asking people for money.”
And, he added, donors tend to want a candidate to feel obligated for their generosity. And he didn’t need the amount of money he could raise that badly.
He said the only thing he wants from the party right now is a chance to speak at the convention. If there is none, he’s not sure whether he’ll even go to Tampa, though he said conventions are typically “a very good time.
“I went to nine in a row,” he said, adding that he skipped 2008. “I wasn’t very happy with the ticket.”
He often brings up that he finished ahead of Ron Paul in Puerto Rico, and it’s hard to tell if that’s a gag line. He said he beat Michele Bachmann in New Hampshire, but not quite; she actually got 5 more votes.
He got 345 — for seven months work.
And he’s still working. Last weekend, he was campaigning in Utah, the last state to have a primary, on June 26. It was ironic, since he has aggressively attacked the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints’ multi-million-dollar investment in anti-gay marriage bills and propositions around the country, and Mitt Romney for his support of his faith’s efforts.
But he said everybody in Utah greets him graciously.
“At least outwardly,” he said.
After Utah, he’s finally shutting down the campaign, and will head back to Laguna Beach, back working as a gay-rights activist. He said he won’t be running for anything again, even a lesser office. He took his chance, and now he’s done with campaigning, at least for himself.
But as the Utah vote approached, he was airing an ad demanding that the head of The Mormon Church address discrimination against young gays. He blamed high rates of Utah youth suicide on the church’s attitude.
“I’m running for President of the United States,” he says at the ad’s end.
“ I’m Fred Karger, and I approved this message.”