Ralph Reed: How to Organize When You're Down (But a Long Way from Out)
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Mon Jan 30, 2006 at 06:47:46 PM EST
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Why does the Lieutenant Governor's race in Georgia matter? It matters to Republican primary candidate Ralph Reed because his supporters view his first race for political office as a crucial test of his ability to capture the Governor's mansion and then eye a run for the White House. And it matters to everyone concerned about preserving a constitutional democracy -- including freedom of speech, freedom of association, and separation of church and state -- not only because Reed's agenda is anti-democratic. It matters, too, because Reed is right now conducting a clinic in how to organize political campaigns. Would you like to learn how to organize and win? Study this candidate; pay attention to this race.

The media is jowling about Reed's vulnerability because of his hypocrisy in preaching against gambling while "humping" major money as a lobbyist for Jack Abramoff's casino industry clients. But even as his critics jaw about defeat, Reed is planning to snatch a victory. He is building a massive grassroots network statewide on a scale never before seen in a down-the-ballot Georgia primary race. Reed's race may be lower down on the ballot, but it's far from insignificant. Reed may be lower down in the polls, but he's a long way from out; in fact, he's planning to win a remarkable victory -- and keep on running for higher offices. Anyone who wants to learn how to win an issues campaign or a campaign for elected office should study his methods.

Maybe Reed is fighting so hard because his back is to the wall. For the first time, a plurality of Georgia voters view former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed in a negative light, according to recent polling by Strategic Vision. In a three-day poll of likely Georgia voters published on January 25, 42 percent said they hold an "unfavorable" opinion of Reed, a Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor, compared with just 38 percent who gave him a "favorable" rating. The poll was conducted from January 20-22, 2006, and it represents quite a reversal from Reed's highest rating of 54 percent favorable/36 percent unfavorable in the same firm's poll published on August 4, 2005. In four polls since then, Reed's favorability rating has continued to slip -- and his negative ratings have continued to rise -- as indicated by the chart that I've prepared above, based on Strategic Vision's polling date. Meanwhile, voters have seen his primary opponent, six-term state senator Casey Cagle, in an increasingly positive light. In contrast to Reed's net negative rating, Cagle enjoys a net positive rating of 39 percent favorable/11 percent unfavorable. The pool of undecided, likely Republican voters has grown from just 10 percent in the August 4 poll to 42 percent in Strategic Vision's most recent poll. And those undecided voters are taking a hard look at Reed's involvement with Jack Abramoff. Their concern isn't merely based on an unfair inference of "guilt by association," as Reed's media campaign suggests. Rather, likely Georgia voters -- including conservative Christians -- are expressing concern about Reed's 25-year friendship, strategic political alliance, and lucrative contracts with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Cagle stands to gain from voters' growing unease with Reed's hypocrisy and crassness. First, however, Cagle -- and the Georgia Democratic Party -- must build a grassroots network to rival Reed's. This is not a race that can be won by coasting on a few headlines; it takes cultivation, consistency, and determination.

Ralph Reed's Favorability Rating Among Georgia Voters. Chart by Jonathan Hutson, based on polling data from Strategic Vision. Image hosting by Photobucket

Maybe Reed is fighting so hard and building such a record-setting campaign because that's what he always does, regardless of what the polls indicate. He's smashed fundraising records for a Georgia Lieutenant Governor's race. He's also setting new records for the number of volunteers recruited statewide for a down-the-ballot race in Georgia. On January 26 -- the day after Strategic Vision published its poll showing Reed's first-ever net negative rating -- Reed's campaign fired back by issuing a press release detailing the size of its volunteer database. To date, Reed's campaign has recruited 5,614 volunteers, and it conducted 10 training sessions across the state last fall. These volunteers are being indoctrinated and mobilized using cell phones, web sites, e-mail, direct mail, and personal contact, including traditional door-knocking campaigns. If that  does not sound like rocket science, it isn't. But what Reed knows is that the victory generally goes to the team that raises more money, and recruits, trains, and mobilizes more volunteers. Reed has been building his contacts in Georgia for 29 years; this is not the year he's going to lie down because of some negative headlines. He's planning to win, and building the grassroots network to  make it so. That's a lesson that others can emulate.

If you build a grassroots network -- identifying voters who care about your issues, educating them about why their voice and their vote is critical, and activate them -- then you can achieve remarkable results. You can set records for fundraising and the number of volunteers recruited. That's what Reed did when he served as chairman of the Georgia Republican Party in 2002, as executive director of the Christian Coalition in the 1990's, and as chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign for the Southeast Region in 2004. And it's not all stealth politics -- a good deal of it is right out in the open. But who's paying attention? Who's learning the lessons and passing them on?

Reed may be feeling desperate -- desperate enough to pay Christian Coalition members to attend a recent Christian Coalition gathering. But he's also desperate enough to do what it takes to win. Are you feeling the heat? Are you sensing that Reed is already looking ahead to the Governor's mansion, and then the White House? If you're not watching this particular race, or if you're heaving a sigh of relief because Reed is down in the polls, then brothers and sisters, that's just where Reed wants you to be.




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The Reed campaign grassroots network is larger than the one built by the Georgia Republican Party in 2002 during Reed's tenure as state GOP Chairman. That organization comprised 3,000 volunteers and 500 paid workers, and contributed to a landslide for Georgia Republicans.

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Time Magazine reported on January 31, 2006, that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is paying attention to Ralph Reed's run for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. In fact, Giuliani headlined a fundraiser for Reed, even as the Christian Coalition's Pat Robertson has declard that Rudy would make a good president.
The Catholic mayor is also busy burnishing his ties to Christian conservatives. Pat Robertson has said Rudy would make "a good president" and the mayor was a headliner for a fundraising committee supporting former Christian Coalition executive Ralph Reed in his bid to be Georgia's lieutenant governor. Last week, Giuliani dropped by an Orlando meeting of the Global Pastors Network and told the Evangelical leaders that "only God knows" if he will run for president. The group offered their prayers for him and he responded in kind, showing an openly devout side not many people had seen before: "I can't tell you from my heart how much I appreciate what you are doing - saving people, telling them about Jesus Christ and bringing them to God."
If Christian groups want to bring people closer to God, that's admirable; they can start by bringing self-styled religious prophets like Reed closer to accountability for his hypocrisy and profit-making as a gambling lobbyist working with his close personal friend and business partner Jack Abramoff.

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