Fred Karger came home to Laguna Beach this week after accomplishing his mission in the New Hampshire presidential primary: beating one of the major candidates who has campaigned against same-sex marriage rights.
Then it's on to Michigan, after a week of rest and relaxation.
"My goal was to beat Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann," he said. All three were tied in two New Hampshire polls before the primary.
"Also, it would be a huge embarrassment for either one to lose to the openly gay candidate because of their anti-gay positions and statements," he said in an email.
When he checked with New Hampshire's secretary of state Wednesday afternoon, he was 137 votes ahead of Bachmann, who dropped out of the race several days ago.
"I finished eighth with just a fraction of the money spent by the other candidates," Karger said.
His opponents have millions of dollars and hundreds of staffers to help him. Karger's staff of six work mostly from their homes.
"I'm the 'Little Engine that Could,'" he said. "I want to stay in [the race] as long as possible."
The next ballot Karger is on is Michigan, which will hold its primary at the end of February. He decided to "take a pass" on South Carolina, a conservative state in which only registered Republicans can vote in the primary. There was also a hefty $35,000 fee to get on the ballot.
Each state has its own rules, making a primary run a complex matter, he said.
While anyone can file to run in New Hampshire, Karger wasn't allowed on the Florida ballot because in that state the party chairman picks who is allowed to run.
"They picked some candidates with far less media exposure, so I think [Florida] just wanted to keep an openly gay candidate off the ballot," he said.
"Michigan invited me. And all are top-tier candidates," he added.
In that state, there are no fees to be on the presidential primary ballot, and the secretary of state issues invitations "to those who have had significant media coverage."
However, the contest could be over after the Florida primary if Mitt Romney keeps up his winning streak and other candidates decide it's not worthwhile to keep chasing him, Karger said.
"If [the contest] does go to Michigan, if Romney doesn't wrap it up, I will do everything I can do to be on the major media debates," he said.
Karger is also on the ballot in North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Utah. He hopes to be able to campaign in California if the contest lasts that long.
Karger, a gay activist who came out after retiring from a long career as a political operative in the Republican Party, decided to run for the GOP nomination to "transform the party." He also wanted to send a message to young gays and lesbians that they should be proud of who they are and stand up for themselves.
He said he has "had a blast" in New Hampshire, where he rented a house in a pleasant neighborhood.
"Everyone has been very welcoming, and four people just held house parties for me," he said. "Every time I go to a restaurant, the media are waiting for me.
"There's a [Fred Karger] Frisbee in every New Hampshire home."
Karger said this foray into presidential politics has been life-changing for him, and, he hopes, for the gays and lesbians he has encountered.
"I was marching with an Occupy group, and a 16-year-old girl came up to me and said that since she had come out, she has been treated differently, bullied at school and that her parents disapprove," he said. "She said she had wanted to meet me. We both cried."