As Ralph Reed's Crew Jumps Ship, He Baits His Hook with Cash
jhutson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jan 23, 2006 at 11:56:59 AM EST
Ralph Reed's campaign for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia is facing unwanted publicity over the loss of several steering committee members, who have joined the campaign of his Republican primary rival, State Senator Lowell S. "Casey" Cagle. Six of Reed's statewide steering committee members from Gwinnett County -- key political and business leaders -- released a statement dated January 20, 2006, citing Cagle's "combination of experience, electability, dedication to conservative values and record of integrity in office" to explain why they jumped ship. The letter was signed by three other former steering committee members who quit several months ago.

The loss of nine members in a statewide steering committee that numbers nearly 600 is largely symbolic. But campaign momentum trades on such symbolism, and news coverage of the latest defections comes at a critical time for the Reed campaign. Although Reed leads in overall fundraising, his campaign is struggling to regain its momentum against Cagle, who enjoys less name recognition, but whose popularity is growing just as Reed's key supporters are voicing doubts.

Reed's campaign is beleaguered by a headwind of negative news coverage, including questions over his 25-year friendship and strategic political alliance with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a slowdown in his fundraising, and a January 6 Zogby International poll that showed him trailing an unnamed Democratic opponent by three points, while Cagle led the nameless Democrat by five points. Adding to the perception of Reed's vulnerability is this headline, which ran in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday, January 22: "Reed Offers Cash to Drum Up Crowd for Christian Coalition."

 The AJC's Jim Galloway reports:
Ralph Reed wants a good crowd at today's annual gathering of the Christian Coalition of Georgia. And he's willing to shell out cash for it. His Republican campaign for lieutenant governor sent an e-mail to supporters this week offering to pay the $20 entrance fee and -- for out-of-towners -- an overnight stay in a hotel...

It's a prime chance to reinvigorate evangelicals, who form the political base for the former head of the national Christian Coalition. Many have been put off by months of news reports detailing Reed's association with disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. This month, Abramoff pleaded guilty to charges of corrupting public officials and now is cooperating with federal investigators looking at several members of Congress.

For the past five weeks, Reed has expressed regret for the work: anti-gambling campaigns in several Southern states on behalf of Abramoff clients, Indian tribes out to protect their casino interests from potential rivals. Reed also helped Abramoff, a friend of 20 years, defeat a congressional ban on Internet gambling -- receiving funds from a firm interested in selling state lottery tickets on-line.

Although Reed has blamed Cagle and the so-called "liberal media" for negative coverage, his harshest critics come from the ranks of conservative Christians. Many of these individuals, who agree with Reed on the issues, are questioning Reed's values, and liking what they see in his opponent. Phill DaCosta, a Christian Coalition volunteer who attended the annual gathering, told the AJC that while he's learned a lot about political strategy from Ralph Reed's seminars and books, this year, he'll be knocking on doors for Cagle. "It's very obvious he [Reed] put money before our agenda. That upset me," Dacosta said. "I want an apology saying, 'What I did was wrong.' "

And the local press carries more and more of the same questions from Christian voters. Here's how Carlton Ring, pastor of Cornerstone Church of God in Waycross, Georgia, and chairman of the Ware County Republican party, contrasted Cagle to his opponent in the Gainesville Times: "His opponent has most of the grassroots support down here from the old Christian Coalition connections," Ring said. "I am a pastor, but I'm not a Ralph Reed fan."

Jerry Luquire, a retired Christian book publisher, gave an even more pointed critique in the same article, saying, "I support Senator Cagle because I know of Ralph Reed. Obviously, Ralph Reed has the name recognition, but not in a favorable light."

Like Reed, Cagle is a conservative Christian, and he has significant political and business connections on whom he can rely for support. Cagle and his wife Nita are active members of Blackshear Place Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist megachurch in Flowery Branch, Georgia. A self-employed businessman, he is president of Casey Cagle Properties, a real estate investment firm. In addition, Cagle founded Southern Heritage Bank in 1998 and served as Chairman of the Board of Southern Heritage Bancorp until it was acquired by the bank holding company GB&T Bancshares, Inc., in 2004. He now serves on the Board of GB&T.

In contrast to Reed, who has never served in public office, Cagle is serving his sixth term in the state senate, where he has compiled a conservative voting record, including key anti-choice votes, a remarkably strong support for gun owner's rights, and a dismal record on preserving the environment. During the last six months of 2005, Cagle led Reed in fundraising.

Reed remains a formidable opponent, with a well-organized network of volunteers and an overall fundraising advantage. Reed has raised some $1.8 million, with 43 percent of his support in the last half of 2005 coming from out-of-state. Cagle has raised some $1.3 million, with 99 percent of his contributions in the last half of 2005 coming from Georgia. And, until the legislative session ends, Cagle cannot raise more funds.

So far, Cagle has stayed on the high road, at least in his public statements.

Meanwhile, Cagle's minions have gone to work cultivating grassroots networks, including church connections, to launch a whispering campaign against Reed -- just as Reed, the self-styled stealth warrior of the Christian right, taught them to do.

The Georgia Republican primary will be held on July 18, 2006. If Cagle wins, then he can thank Reed for lending him key staff, key supporters, and a political playbook, too.

Wikipedia summarizes Ralph Reed's career and also provides an overview of the Abramoff lobbying and corruption scandal. Here's a nice bit of history on the salad days of Abramoff, Norquist, and Reed, who were known as "the triumvirate" when they took over and purged the College Republican National Committee.
In 1981, Reed moved to Washington, D.C. to intern for Jack Abramoff, the newly elected Chairman of the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) and later the central figure in the Indian gaming and Congressional bribery scandal that would cause problems for Reed's campaign for Lieutenant Governor.

At the CRNC, Abramoff, Executive Director Grover Norquist and Reed formed what was known as the "Abramoff-Norquist-Reed triumvirate." Upon Abramoff's election, the trio purged "dissidents" and re-wrote the CRNC's bylaws to consolidate their control over the organization. Reed was the "hatchet man" and "carried out Abramoff-Norquist orders with ruthless efficiency, not bothering to hide his fingerprints." Abramoff promoted Reed in 1983, appointing him to succeed Norquist as Executive Director of the CRNC. (Nina J. Easton, Gang of Five: Leaders at the Center of the Conservative Crusade, page 143)

Reed roomed with Abramoff in Washington, D.C. and later introduced him to his wife. Reed participated in the weddings of both Abramoff and Norquist. Norquist would later serve as President of Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group that would serve as a fundraising conduit in the Indian gaming scandal.

by jhutson on Mon Jan 23, 2006 at 01:00:17 PM EST

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