Covering the New Hampshire primary for This Week in Northern California, I had hardly checked into Concord’s Residence Inn when I saw Newt Gingrich’s wife Callista pass by in the hallway. There was no mistaking her blonde hair-do…
The next morning Gingrich was sharing the Inn’s free breakfast and chatting up guests as he prepared to head out for the campaign trail. As has been oft-reported, New Hampshire provides close contact with all hopefuls who choose to run in this first-in-the nation presidential primary.
The state’s population is nearly 94% white. There are so few black people here, reporters looking for a little diversity often stopped me and asked for an interview. “I’m one of you,” I kept telling them.
Forty percent of the state’s voters are registered as “undeclared” or independents. Republicans campaigning here got the longest and loudest applause when they voiced conservative views on the right to bear arms, support for the repeal of President Obama’s health care overhaul, and opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
So it’s not exactly the place you would expect to find a guy like Fred Karger out on the stump. Karger, a California Republican, has been proudly proclaiming he’s the first gay man to run for president.
Karger is no stranger to politics, serving as a political strategist to three presidents: Ford, Reagan and George HW Bush. He hopes to chalk up enough votes to qualify for a spot on the party’s televised debate schedule. Like candidates Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, Karger has been practically living in the Granite State. He says he entered the race because he wants young gays to know they can do anything, including become president of the United States.
His campaign events are small. He hands out buttons and frisbees with the slogan “Fred Who?”
In his home state of California, Karger was a leader in the effort to defeat Proposition 8, the voter-approved measure banning same-sex marriage. During the campaign, he discovered and publicized the large amount of funding for the pro-Prop 8 side provided by the Mormon Church.
Last month, Karger joined a chorus of YouTube video producers to parody Texas Governor Rick Perry’s campaign ad, titled “Strong,” which takes issue with gays and lesbians being able to serve in the military. Karger’s parody, “Rick Perry Ashamed,” went viral.
In New Hampshire, Karger has been saying that Rick Santorum’s anti-gay rhetoric is “turning back the clock…to a 19th century type of discussion…that is ripping the country apart.” That message seemed to resonate with a group of students at New England College in Concord, who over the weekend, heckled and debated the former Pennsylvania senator for comparing same- sex marriage to polygamy.
I caught up with Karger last week at a dinner for campaign supporters at The Puritan Backroom restaurant in Manchester, New Hampshire. Karger has spent thousands of dollars of his own money on the campaign in order to, he says, allow New Hampshire voters the chance to hear the views of “a moderate Republican.”
Update 8:14 p.m. With 84 % of the vote counted, Karger has received 276 votes. Right now he trails former candidate Michele Bachmann by nine.
You can watch Belva Davis and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci discuss the New Hampshire primary with KQED’s Scott Shafer on last Friday’s This Week in Northern California here.