Sen. Jim DeMint has never been one to hide his disgust for gays and lesbians. He wants to deny them marriage licenses and ban them from teaching. But that isn't enough. Last December, DeMint told Bloomberg News that he "cringes" at the thought of a gay president. "It would be bothersome to me just personally, because I consider it immoral," DeMint said at the time.
Senator, prepare to be bothered. Gay Republican Fred Karger announced earlier this year that he's exploring a presidential run in the GOP primary, and it was clear last week in an interview that Karger is moving ever closer to officially announcing a campaign.
Karger is a longtime Republican operative who worked with Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. He came out publicly four years ago and led a challenge to California's Proposition 8, a ballot measure that outlawed gay marriage by a narrow margin in California in 2008. Karger has also brought the fight to anti-gay groups like the Mormon Church and the National Organization for Marriage.
Combining his recent grassroots activism with his experience on presidential and political campaigns should produce dividends on the trail. Karger has already spent time in New Hampshire and Iowa, the first two primary states. And he's ready for a trip to South Carolina. Like Reagan, he's coming from California to offer a course-correction for Republicans heading in the wrong direction.
"Reagan brought a spirit and optimism back to America," Karger says.
Republicans are certainly optimistic for their political fortunes, but there's a larger question about progress.
DeMint said after the party's '08 defeat that he'd rather have 30 Republicans of his liking than a Senate majority. In a lot of ways, DeMint got his wish. He defeated moderate Republicans in this year's GOP primaries, only to see his more conservative alternatives defeated in the general election.
Karger worked with Lee Atwater and notes, ironically, that it was the South Carolina native who helped the party grow its "big tent."
"There are a lot of people in my party who don't believe in that today," he says. "I'm concerned the party is trying to be too exclusive."
With Karger's experience, he understands that this is a long shot campaign. But he sees some value in getting out there on the field.
"I'm a realist — I'm probably not going to win," he says. But he points to Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the New York Democrat who was the first major-party African-American candidate 36 years before President Barack Obama. "She didn't win, but she paved the way for others."
An opportunity to share the stage with other GOP hopefuls would be an accomplishment, whether or not Karger makes it to November. He says his campaign has developed a strategy to reach those platforms.
"I've been aggressive and a fighter my whole political life, and I'll do that with this campaign," he says.
A debate would not only challenge the anti-gay positions of likely candidates like former Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Mike Pence, and former Gov. Mike Huckabee, but it would put frontrunners like former Govs. Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin on the record regarding equal rights.
Karger says he doesn't just want to elevate issues like gay marriage and repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He also wants to offer encouragement to young gay politicos. After starting his campaign, Karger says he received a note of support from an 18-year-old gay Republican from Georgia who said that he'd always wanted to run for office, but he thought it was impossible.
"It made me stop, because that's what I wanted to do," Karger says.
For more information, visit fredkarger.com