Sep 3, 2011

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Saturday, September 3

I’m trying to save us all from Tea Party, says gay Republican

Rhys Blakely Los Angeles

Fred Karger wants you to know that he is not delusional.

It is a point worth repeating, for not only is he America’s first gay presidential candidate from a major party, he is a Republican whose sexuality has been branded satanic by party colleagues.

For 35 years he was a behind-the-scenes Washington player. By day he advised three presidents — Ford, Reagan and George Bush Sr — on political strategy.

london picFred Karger — with his self-deprecating Frisbees — hopes to win back moderates

Andrea Melendez/The Register

At night he went home to his secret partner. He hid his homosexuality from his family, took lesbian friends to office parties and worried constantly about being discovered.

“It’s not a lifestyle I’d recommend,” he said of his former subterfuge, his wit as dry as the parched canyon in the Hollywood Hills in which his secluded home sits. “But I wasn’t like some — and I know plenty — who got married, had kids and had to sneak off.”

When his parents died Mr Karger finally went public about his sexuality. It was 2006 and he was 56. Now, as if to make up for lost time, he says he is on a crusade to save the party, to which he devoted his life, from the clutches of “hateful, evil” intolerance. Of his main rivals for the Republican nomination he is scathing. Rick Perry, the Texas Governor, Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Congresswoman, and even the relatively moderate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, are in thrall to a Republican extremist fringe that has lurched to the far Right on social issues, he claims.

“They are gay-bashing for political gain,” he said. “It has fuelled religion-based bigotry to a great extent, and there’s a lot of money and influence in it.”

His central argument — that the Republicans are swaying too far to the Right to be electable — is gaining currency among Washington pundits.

The economy is wretched and President Obama’s approval ratings dismally low. It is widely believed however that the Republicans risk scaring the moderate voters in the centre that decide Presidential races.

Mr Perry recently derided evolution as “a theory that’s out there” and scoffed at climate change, calling it “a hoax”. Ms Bachmann called homosexuality a form of “sexual dysfunction” and said that she submits to her husband’s will because it is written in the Bible. Mr Romney, who had previously supported gay rights, recently backed a proposed amendment of the US constitution that would, in effect, outlaw same-sex marriage.

By contrast, Mr Karger, 61, calls himself a Rockefeller Republican. This is a reference to Nelson Rockefeller, the vice-president of the mid-1970s who championed environmentalism, state investment in medical care and abortion rights — positions that would repel today’s Tea Party.

His name became a byword for moderation and for many Washington veterans, the Rockefeller reference will recall a more civilised, bipartisan era. It is a label that has fallen out of fashion.

Mr Karger does not expect to win the Republican nomination. (His campaign includes distributing Frisbees that bear the legend “Fred Who?”).

His main goal is to stir things up by appearing in a televised debate.

“I’m a realist,” he said. “And this is all pretty ludicrous . . . But I’ll be screaming to get into those debates. And compared to these other very conservative guys, I’ll be a breath of fresh air.”