Fred Karger, the first openly gay candidate to seek a major-party presidential nomination, received a major boost on Thursday by winning the Saint Anselm College Republican Straw Poll in Manchester, New Hampshire.
A longtime Republican activist-turned-political consultant, Karger was the only one of the nearly two-dozen potential Republican candidates to address the St. Anselm Republicans before the balloting began. He spent the previous seven days on the campus, working feverishly for a strong showing in the week-long straw poll.
Karger, who served as press secretary to the late Maureen Reagan during her ill-fated bid for the U.S. Senate in 1982 and later did opposition research for President Reagan‘s reelection campaign in 1984, was elated by his stunning victory on Thursday evening.
“My message of inclusion in the Republican Party and reaching out to younger people is working,” said Karger, who has visited the Granite State no fewer than thirteen times during the past year.
Karger, who enjoyed a brief acting career in the 1970’s, received 79 votes out of 322 ballots cast, narrowly defeating Mitt Romney — the former Massachusetts governor and perceived Republican frontrunner — by five votes. Publicity-seeking billionaire businessman Donald Trump finished a distant third with 26 votes, while former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who finished fifth in the 2008 New Hampshire primary, tied for fourth place with 24 votes apiece.
Gary Johnson, the libertarian-leaning former governor of New Mexico, received 8 votes. Like Karger, Johnson had also visited the St. Anselm campus prior to Thursday’s straw poll.
No fewer than sixteen potential GOP candidates, including Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, received votes in the straw poll.
Gingrich, who is scheduled to speak at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at St. Anselm College on April 4, received only seven votes in Thursday’s balloting.
Surprisingly, Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann, another Tea Party darling and presidential prospect who’s been busying herself in Iowa in recent weeks, didn’t receive any support in the New Hampshire straw poll.
Buoyed by his success in the straw poll, Karger, a resident of southern California, said that he plans to rent a house in Manchester and will campaign full-time for a similar showing in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary in January.
Though far less known than most of his potential rivals for the Republican nomination, the 61-year-old Karger, who cut his political teeth as a young teenager during Nelson A. Rockefeller’s unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 1964, arguably has more experience in presidential politics than anybody else in the field. He later served as a senior campaign advisor to Presidents Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
That experience, he says, will give him a unique advantage on the campaign trail.
“I have worked on nine Presidential campaigns; this would be my tenth,” he said as he quietly embarked on his seemingly impossible quest for the White House a year ago this week. “I have managed dozens of other campaigns all over the country, and would bring that wealth of experience to my own candidacy.”
Karger, whose exploratory committee raised more than $109,000 in 2010 and whose no-frills campaign now boasts two full-time staffers and five part-time employees, became the first Republican to officially declare his candidacy last week when he filed his paperwork with Federal Election Commission.