Over Christmas in 2009, I went to my brother's home in Hawaii to discuss my idea to run for President of the United States with my family. The reactions were mostly that of surprise, but generally favorable.
I returned home to Los Angeles exactly six years ago this month to prepare for a February exploratory trip to Washington, DC, New York and then a week in New Hampshire to "test the waters" for a possible run.
I hired my friend Brian Wilson to help put the trip together and get my campaign underway.
I had been a Republican political consultant for 30 years, learning from the master himself, veteran GOP consultant Bill Roberts. I joined Bill at the Dolphin Group and went on to run dozens of campaigns during my career. I had worked on nine presidential campaigns, including roles as a senior consultant helping President's Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush.
I knew politics inside out, but I was gay and had not come out publicly until California's Proposition 8 in 2008. My secret was out, and I was now free to run for political office. So as my grandmother taught me, I started at the top.
My first read was David Plouffe's book, "The Audacity to Win" about Barack Obama's uphill campaign in 2008. It would be my blueprint. Plouffe said they took chances on everything they did and so would I.
I knew that running as a gay Republican would create some interest for a first-time candidate.
So off to the frigid East I went. My meetings in Washington and New York went ok, but I hadn't made up my mind until the night I spoke to 35 LGBT students at the University of New Hampshire. I saw hope in their eyes and listened. They said what a difference my candidacy would make to LGBT youth. I decided to run that night.
I returned to California and assembled a team and headed to New Orleans with three campaign aides. On April 10, 2010 I held a press conference to announce that I was "seriously considering" running for President. The Southern Republican Leadership Conference had initially said no to my press conference. I learned from that day on that I would have to fight my way into most everything for the next 27 months.
My strategy was fourfold: be taken seriously; do lots of firsts to gain attention; everything I did had to be very professional and never take no for an answer.
I bought five blue suits and lots of ties. I had a slick logo designed. Our campaign web site was designed and hosted by the company that was doing fellow candidates Tim Pawlenty's and Ron Paul's sites. We ordered lots of campaign T-shirts, note pads, lapel pins, stickers and introduced tens of thousands of Fred Who Frisbees to the voters in New Hampshire and Iowa. We held lots of receptions and Town Hall meetings in both states.
We had over 60 people at our first Town Hall in Keene, New Hampshire in May 2011. We served free Margaritas. When John McCain ran for president in 2000, he had only 17 at his first Town Hall, but he gave away ice cream. The Karger campaign was going to be fun, inclusive, fueled by young people with lots of hosted events to attract people to the campaign.
I would concentrate on the 2 early states of Iowa and New Hampshire and visited New Hampshire 27 times, even taking up residence there in a 14 room home that we called the New Hampshire White House. It served as our headquarters and housed volunteers, staff and me for seven months. New Hampshire represented my best chance for success. I called myself an Independent Republican, and was the only moderate candidate running. It seemed a good fit for the Granite State.
We hired a finance staff and held 20 fundraisers from coast to coast. We hired Rina Shah as our communications director based in Washington, DC and a political / research director Kevin Miniter who would always travel with me.
Our first break came in May 2010 when I received a hateful email from Iowa Republican National Committeeman Steve Scheffler. He warned that I was not welcome in Iowa because I was gay. The Des Moines Register ran the story and I was besieged with support and an invitation to appear on Jan Mickelson's WHO Radio talk show. This became the first of six more appearances on Iowa's #1 talk radio show. Jan and I are far apart on issues, but we got along well.
Another big break occurred when Dan Zak of the Washington Post came up to New Hampshire to travel with us for 3 days. His presence and the huge story that ran on February 2, 2011 changed the way I was treated as a candidate in New Hampshire and around the country. From that point on I was always listed as a 2nd tier candidate along the two former governors, Buddy Roemer (LA) and Gary Johnson (NM) along with Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (MI).
I knew that my only hope for success would be to get into the debates and preferably the first one. So everything we did was to raise my name ID in order to be on the stage of the FOX News May 2011 debate in Greeneville, South Carolina. I missed the cut on that one, but the next FOX debate in August I met the criteria, 1% in five national polls. I was tied with New Gingrich and ahead of Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman in polls, but FOX refused to let me in.
It was a blow, but not a knockout punch. Over the next year I made it on six ballots, thanks in part to a great meeting I had with RNC Chair Reince Priebus in his office. He said the RNC would treat me like all candidates, and ended up recommending me to state parties to be included on primary ballots. I appeared on the ballot in New Hampshire, Michigan, Maryland, Puerto Rico, California and Utah. I got more votes than Michele Bachmann in New Hampshire and beat Ron Paul in Puerto Rico.
I met with columnist Frank Rich at the New York Times, had editorial boards with every major newspaper in New Hampshire, but one, rode in gay pride parade all over the country, was interviewed by ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX News and MSNBC a lot and hundreds of radio, TV stations, blogs and newspapers. I beat Mitt Romney and Donald Trump in New Hampshire's first straw poll at St. Anselms College. I spoke at over 50 colleges
The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe did features. I did hundreds more international interviews, including David Frost from London. I traveled to Israel and was treated as a visiting head of state as the first ever Jewish Republican candidate for President. I went to London to appear on HARDTalk with Stephen Sackur - BBC's "Meet the Press" on steroids. I appeared with all GOP candidates for president at forums and speeches, but never made it in to one televised debate.
We made 15 slick, fun, state specific commercials including: Good Morning New Hampshire; Demon Frisbee, Independence Day; Hola Puerto Rico; Stop the Hate and Sexy Frisbee which YouTube pulled briefly because it contained a gay kiss. We did polling, had lawn signs, bumper stickers, brochures, did direct mail and campaigned in 26 states. We did everything the big campaigns did and we never went into debt or missed a payroll. If we couldn't afford something we wouldn't do it.
By the time I made it back to California for the June 5th primary, I was one of only six Republican candidates on the ballot. We rented a new Mercedes campaign bus and wrapped it with our campaign logo. I only wish I would have gotten that bus on day one. It got lots of attention and looked great.
It was the experience of a lifetime, that resonated with me daily, especially when someone who was lesbian, gay bisexual or transgender would email me or come up to me thank me and tell me what an effect it had on them.
So looking back, I can say that my impossible dream was realized.