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Crashing the party: Republican strategist turned gay rights activist ponders a White House run

Potential Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger, a political strategist turned gay rights activist, has been campaigning in New Hampshire with the hope of influencing the debate about his party's policies.

The reality, of course, is that anyone can run for president. Initially, it costs $0, plus the time required to file with the Federal Election Commission. The list of 2008 presidential candidates is 366 people long. It includes Hillary Rodham Clinton (Democratic Party), who's followed by Temperance Alesha Lance-Council (party: Unknown); Rudolph W. Giuliani is just ahead of His Royal Majesty Caesar St. Augustine de Buonaparte, who, according to news clippings, declared himself emperor of the United States in 1996.

But to become president, one needs money (Barack Obama raised over half a billion dollars) and mantras ("change," "hope," etc.) and the media (your message here).

Fred has frisbees.

And stickers featuring his slightly airbrushed face. Fred has retirement money, which he's burning at a rate of between $20,000 and $30,000 a month on his almost-campaign. And T-shirts featuring a New Hampshire license plate that reads "FRED WHO?" And customized pins that cross the American flag with the rainbow one.

And Fred has pizza. Where there is pizza, there are college students.

He draws 25 of them to a basement meeting room at the University of New Hampshire in Durham last Tuesday, and about a dozen Dartmouth College Republicans to a conference room in Hanover the following night. His tortoiseshell glasses, gray wool suits and previous acting experience might win him a walk-on part as John Slattery's older brother on "Mad Men." He runs through his biography, outlines his rickety platform (a 28th amendment to lower the voting age, education reform to make school "more interesting") and compares himself to Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, who ran for president in 1972.

Chisholm : Obama :: Fred : The first openly gay president of the United States.

"I know this sounds crazy," he acknowledges to the students, who regard him with arched eyebrows and the occasional nod. "Why am I here?"

Because the GOP needs a pro-choice, antiwar, freedom-for-all, spendthrift compromiser inspired by Nelson Rockefeller and Teddy Roosevelt, he says.

The actual delivery of this message isn't as clean. His stump speech is more of a meander that always boomerangs back to his retirement hobby: crusading against Prop 8, the Mormon Church and the National Organization for Marriage.

The students who show up for Fred seem nostalgic for a big-tent GOP they haven't experienced in their lifetimes. But the tent Fred imagines may be a little too big.

"I think he's a fascinating candidate," says Dartmouth senior Katie Pine, 21, a government major who stopped by the Hanover event because she wonders where all the moderates have gone. "He's charming and charismatic, but he sounds like a Democrat to me."

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