The problem with Fred Karger’s Republican presidential campaign, which ended today, started when Utah decided against another February primary. Karger, a successful Republican strategist who’d come out of the closet and quit working for other candidates, had launched a quixotic campaign with one real purpose: Hounding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for its support of gay marriage bans.
In 2008, more people might have paid attention to a gay Republican shuttling around Utah and needling the church. But Karger, a curiosity figure, didn’t get to play his trump card until the end of June. The national media had pretty much moved on when he ran this ad.
Did a campaign like this deserve more coverage? Interesting question. There was almost zero evidence that Karger, who’d never run for anything before, was making an impact. Across all primaries, he won 10,276 votes. For comparison, when Lyndon LaRouche made his last, rote run for the Democratic nomination in 2004, he won 104,801 votes. Around one in six of Karger’s votes came from the Puerto Rico primary – in the states, he was a pure curiousity. The first time I heard of Karger, one of his aides was walking around a press room at CPAC, excitedly telling reporters about a press conference from a presidential candidate nobody had heard of. The efficacy of these stunts are limited. Being a “presidential candidate” got Karger some TV interviews and newspaper profiles. But being a stunt candidate who got fewer votes in most states than the rivals who’d dropped out already, well, you have to be a wizard to look smart doing that.
Example: Gay Republican activists didn’t take Karger seriously. GOPround, the press-savvy gay Republican group, took pains to criticize a campaign that, by taking up the libertation label, made it look like gay rights were hopelessly marginalized inside the party. But Chris Barron, co-founder of GOProud, reacted to the Karger exit with strange new respect. “Congrats to Fred,” said Barron. “I don’t think he was ever running for President, I think he was running to prove a point and to make a statement. It’s fair to say that he succeeded in doing both.”