For decades, a fear of discrimination kept Fred Karger from seeking office and coming out as openly gay.
When the Laguna Beach resident, a Republican and partner in a top political consulting firm, publicly came out in 2006 after campaigning against the closure of Laguna's iconic Boom Boom Room, he ignited an activist streak that led to a race to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Lesser-known candidates usually fight to get on ballots; Karger has made it on five, including California's. As of Wednesday, he was packing up for Utah, where he'll be on the ballot June 26.
In March, he beat Ron Paul in the Puerto Rico primary, garnering about 1,700 votes, or 1.4% of the electorate.
He has spent about $530,000 on his campaign, with $75,000 of that coming from fundraising efforts.
Some, though, may question why he continues.
"It's a historic candidacy in the first place," he said Monday, a day before the California primary. "I felt an obligation to fulfill that honor."
Karger said he wanted to run for office since he was in his 20s, but felt it was too risky while he was still hiding his sexuality. Behind the scenes, as a political consultant he worked for Gerald Ford, Bob Dole and George Deukmejian.
"I almost ran when I was 27 for Assembly. I knew I couldn't after that," he said. "I wasn't in secret. I managed living a double life."
He points to Robert F. Gentry, a Laguna mayor and the first gay mayor in the country, as an inspiration.
"I think we both have taken a substantial risk," Gentry said last week about Karger's campaign. "We both operated from a very strong sense of commitment and a strong resolve: that bigotry and discrimination must end everywhere in America, no matter what your political, ethnic or religious affiliation might be. For me personally, that risk was well worth it."
Not your typical Republican
In interviews Karger, 62, is clean shaven, dressed in a sharp suit or sports jacket. His silver coif shines, and he maintains an upbeat demeanor when talking about civil rights and the economy.
Ronald Reagan is one of his mentors, whom he worked for as a political consultant with the Dolphin Group in the 1980s. He even applauds the father of his competition, George Romney, for his work as a governor and on Capitol Hill.
However, the gay Jewish candidate from Laguna Beach is far from the Republican mainstream.
He believes marijuana should be legalized and taxed. He's pro-choice. He denounces the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, calling for a speedy withdrawal. The latter is a stance that he finds many Republicans agree with but are just beginning to voice.
"My great concern about the Republican Party is that it is moving so far to the right [that] it is driving away so many moderates and younger people," he said. "They're not welcoming to people like myself that have more moderate views."
While he preaches fiscal responsibility, he said the state of the economy requires both tax cuts and tax hikes, or "revenue enhancements," in order to get the budget back on track. The wealthy can afford to be taxed at a higher rate, he said.
In response to the Buffett Rule — no household making more than $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-class families pay — Karger doesn't support all of it but believes the principle is sound.