A gay, Jewish Republican walks into a bar. Then he sits down, orders a coffee and starts earnestly discussing the progress of his campaign to become the next President of the United States.
That's what happens when Fred Karger does a lunchtime interview. And if the premise of his bid for the White House sounds as if it belongs in a comedy routine, then so does his official slogan. Plastered across the bumper stickers and badges he carries in a briefcase, it reads simply: "Fred Who?"
The vast majority of voters who encounter Karger on the campaign trail take that sentiment literally. In this (admittedly early) stage of the 2012 election campaign, the bespectacled 61-year-old can pass through his native Los Angeles almost unrecognised. His poll rating is closer to zero than 1 per cent.
But Karger is deadly serious about his mission, which is to be the first openly gay presidential candidate to make it on to the primary season ballot papers. And despite having no chance of even coming close to victory, he says he is nonetheless confident of being able to alter the course of American politics.
"By just being around, I am making a difference," he tells i. "I am making a difference to the way other candidates view the gay community, and I'm sending a message to gay people: that you don't have to hide your sexuality to achieve anything you want to in this life."
Fred Karger may not be your average Republican, in a race that has seen almost every major candidate veer dramatically rightwards in support of the God-fearing tea-party vote. But, unlike many a rival, he is by no means a complete outsider to the election process.
For more than 30 years, Karger, who was raised in a conservative Chicago family, worked as a lobbyist. He built a prosperous career representing big tobacco companies and dispensing campaign advice to some of California's most influential Republicans, including presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, whom he assisted with media management.
Based in Los Angeles, Karger kept his homosexuality secret from colleagues, clients and even his own family. He visited several psychiatrists in an unsuccessful effort to become interested in woman.
"It was terrible," he says. "In the end, I decided to live as a gay man but keep it secret. I had a partner for a decade, and we lived together, but when my relatives came to stay, he would move out of the house. I had this double life." After retiring from the lobbying business seven years ago, Karger emerged tentatively from the closet. Then he decided to make up for his previous discretion by embarking on a second career in gay rights activism. His first major role was a high-profile job in the campaign against Proposition Eight, the ballot measure which outlawed same-sex marriage in California in 2008.
Now he is aiming at the White House. And thanks to his insider's knowledge of the political process, Karger is convinced he can make a mark. In a Republican field which currently includes eight "major" candidates and 22 others, his bankroll of $360,000 makes him the wealthiest of the "also-rans".
Karger isn't necessarily runningto win. Instead, he hopes to furthera cause. To this end, he has a two-pronged strategy. First, he will concentrate his limited resources on New Hampshire, one of the first states to vote in primaries, where an unexpectedly strong performance can elevate rank outsiders to the status of contender. "It's a gaybird state, it's the second least religious state in the country, and 42 per cent of all registered voters are undeclared or independent," he says.
Karger's second tactic is simply to refuse to go away. As the number of declared contenders for the Republican nomination dwindles, he hopes to leverage election law to force broadcasters to allow him to take part in high-profile televised debates.
Even if that fails, he has already managed to garner publicity. In August, his picture was plastered across the left-wing media after he ran into Michele Bachmann's husband, Marcus – a psychiatrist who claims to be able to "cure" homosexuals" – on the campaign trail.
"Bachmann didn't know who I was, so he let me pose for a photograph," he recalls. "If you have your picture taken with someone, normally you put your arm around the person, but he got me in a bear hug. As for my young aide, he enveloped him, too."
The photographs were passed to the gay Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton and the website Gawker, which described Bachmann as "sexually enigmatic".
Karger's end-game is to shatter perhaps the greatest taboo of this Republican election season by publicly asking the front-runner Mitt Romney, a lifelong Mormon, about his beliefs.
But even if he never makes it onto that grand a stage, Fred Karger is adamant that his candidacy will one day be seen as transformative. "I lived in the closet for so long, and was just miserable about it, so I'm doing this for young people, so they don't have to live the life I did. In future, I just hope people look back on the 2012 election and say: 'This guy made a difference'."
Twenty years ago, he had a political career. Then, while Governor of Louisiana, the lifelong Democrat switched parties. Six months later voters booted him out. He's been quiet since, but
now: the comeback, claiming: "America needs a Buddy."
Since 1978, the Chicago-based activist has contested 16 elections and won none. The so-called father of the "Birther" movement has spent recent years touring television studios to claim, wrongly,
that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim who was born
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