by Kathleen Gray

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Hayley Drozdowski was intrigued but wary.

She’s a member of the Young Democrats organization at Michigan State University and looked at Fred Karger, a Republican presidential candidate from California, with skepticism.

He supports abortion rights and gay marriage, and he’s the first openly gay major-party presidential candidate. Not your typical Republican.

“He’s appealing to college students here,” said Drozdowski, 20, of Livonia. “But without doing some more research, I’m a little leery.”

Karger has focused on Michigan for the last month, courting votes at MSU last week and speaking to GOP groups and others who might support him in Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary in the state.

A liberal on social issues, Karger said he’s conservative on government spending, which he called out of control.

President Barack Obama, he said, “spent way too much time on health care instead of the economy. I definitely want to balance the budget.”

Karger is on only six primary ballots — those in Michigan, North Carolina, Maryland, California, New Hampshire and Puerto Rico.

He got 485 votes in New Hampshire, “and I probably know every one of those voters,” he said.

In Michigan, because most delegates are awarded by congressional district, Karger is focusing on the 8th District, which includes the Lansing area.

He’s hoping his message will appeal to moderate Republicans, some Democrats and independents. He’s airing a commercial in the district, but campaigning statewide.

“I know it’s a long shot,” Karger said.

He’s hoping to blunt gay bashing, saying it’s “driving away a generation of people” from the GOP.

At MSU, he appealed to supporters of Obama to vote for him because Obama is unopposed.

“It’s a little unethical,” he said. “But they can make history and send a message.”

For him, it’s a message of freedom. He’s 62 and knew he was gay for decades, but didn’t come out until he was 57. He had a live-in partner for 11 years.

“I lived a double life for so many years. I had a great lesbian friend, and we’d act as each others’ beards,” he said. “The hardest thing is I didn’t get to spend a single Christmas with my partner because we had to spend it with our families.”

Karger has worked as a political consultant to the campaigns of GOP Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Most recently, he worked against a California ballot proposal to ban gay marriage.

He spent about $500,000 on his campaign, 75% of it his own money. Most of his friends, he acknowledged, are Democrats. Although he has been welcomed by the Republican National Committee, he has been pilloried by some Republicans.

MSU student Sam Wilson, 19, of Pinckney questioned Karger at an appearance.

“How’s that Republican thing working for you?” she asked.

“There are third-party groups that won’t let me speak,” he said. “And people may be a little uncomfortable, but I’m an activist for civil rights.”

Wilson, a Democrat, is undecided, but acknowledged that it’s “good to hear from the Republican side of things.”

Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4407 or


Michigan voters will see 11 Republican presidential candidates on the ballot Tuesday, but only seven remain active campaigners:

• The big four: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich
• The little three: Fred Karger, Buddy Roemer and Gary Johnson

About the candidates

Name: Gary Johnson
Age: 59
Experience: Governor of New Mexico, 1995-2003; founder and chairman of Our America Initiative, a nonprofit promoting fiscal responsibility
Politics: Leans Libertarian
Personal: Two children; mountain climber and Ironman triathlete. Learn more: www.garyjohnson

Name: Fred Karger
Age: 62
Experience: Political consultant to former presidents Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and George Bush
Politics: Social moderate, fiscal conservative
Personal: Only openly gay presidential candidate
Learn more: www.fredkarger .com

Name: Buddy Roemer
Age: 69
Experience: Congressman from Louisiana, 1981-88; Louisiana governor, 1988-1992; founder, CEO and president of Business 1st Bank
Politics: Started out a conservative Democrat and is now a Republican
Personal: Married, three children
Learn more: www.buddyroemer .com