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Fred Karger tries to woo Iowa college Republicans for 2012 caucus

AMES — Longtime political consultant and activist Fred Karger, the first official Republican 2012 presidential candidate, admits he’s a long shot. But as Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss) bows out of the race because he “doesn’t have the fire in his belly,” Karger insists he does.

Speaking at Legend’s Bar & Grill before a dozen students from Iowa State University, largely members of the College Republicans, told them he supported Democrat Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries. Karger said he would support a Democrat if they fell in line with his beliefs, and he supported Barack Obama when he became the eventual nominee. But he also said Obama has been a disappointment to him and the gay community, and that’s what pushed him into the race.

Karger has always been a Republican and worked on the campaigns of former presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Over the past 10 years, Karger — who is openly gay — spent most of his time as an activist for gay rights, especially fighting the Mormon church over Proposition 8.

He said part of the reason he’s running is to try to influence the debate among the Republican party, to get them away from an ideological divide over social issues and become a “big tent party” once again. That’s why he’s trying to visit with college students.

“Reince Priebus is making that a big part of his initiative is to bring in younger people into the Republican party,” Karger said of the new head of the Republican National Committee. “And I’ve heard him say that — and I’ve talked to him about that — and I’m clearly the only Republican running who is actively trying to bring new and younger members into the party.”

Karger won a straw poll at a college campus recently in New Hampshire, beating former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He attributed that to spending a week at a time in the Granite State repeatedly, meeting with voters. He said college students are typically more accepting of his sexuality and are able to get around it to talk about policy and other larger concerns.

Karger admits he’s taking a page out of Obama’s playbook by targeting youth voters, but believes Obama is “vulnerable” in 2012 despite a “bleak field” of GOP candidates emerging.

When students asked him about the size of government, Karger said some social programs will have to stay because some people just can’t take care of themselves. But he said the size of entitlements needs to be on the table.

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/Fred-Karger-frisbee-300x199.jpgPhoto by Tyler Kingkade/The Iowa Independent

“I’m not making any finite recommendations but … I’m not running from it,” Karger later told The Iowa Independent. “Because of health care [improvements], people are living far longer than they were when Medicare was passed, when Social Security was passed.”

Along with him, Karger brought frisbees that read “Fred Who?” to pass out. He said the frisbees are intentional because it’s part of his initiative to get people healthy. “It may not be throwing frisbess,” he admitted, but he wants to encourage people to take small steps like walking up stairs, going for short runs and making an effort to live healthy. That’s part of why health care costs are so high, he claimed.

Karger said part of his campaign will be focused on listening to ideas from potential voters rather than simply throwing out his policy ideas right away. But he will focus on fiscal issues over social issues, such as gay rights or a woman’s right to choose.

“I want to bring back that entrepreneurial spirit and get people to stop relying on government,” Karger said.

He also declared he would not accept any matching dollars from the federal government for his campaign. He said there has been too much money being raised.

Raising nearly hundreds of millions of dollars just before entering the White House, as Obama did, makes health care reform packages and stimulus programs with price tags near $1 billion seem like no big deal, Karger asserted.

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