Why Ralph Reed matters
Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) (L) exchanges contact information with conservative leader Ralph Reed during the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
June 3rd, 2011
07:09 AM ET

Why Ralph Reed matters

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN) - On Friday and Saturday, just about every Republican hoping for a shot at the GOP nomination for president will metaphorically kiss the ring of Ralph Reed and schmooze his conference crowd.

The political powerhouse is throwing the event of the moment in Washington, DC - the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference.

Among those pondering or having acknowledged presidential aspirations: Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum are all scheduled to take the stage and address the 1,000 conference attendees and 250 credentialed members of the media. Newt Gingrich, who spoke last year, is sending in a video.

They will be joined by Donald Trump, Glenn Beck and Marco Rubio on the speakers schedule. It is a veritable who's who of Republican presidential contenders and conservative political power players.

They are all coming because Reed is known as an evangelical whisperer.

Despite a Washington beltway money scandal that could have derailed his career, Reed is once again riding high - and potential candidates know it. "(They) understand that we provide a unique forum to reach out to social conservatives and newly energized Tea Party Activists," Gary Marx the Faith and Freedom Coalition's new executive director said on the eve of the conference.

It's a group that's been called "Teavangelicals" and shows that Reed is trying to widen his reach. "It's a broader appeal. It's faith-based activists and Tea Party supporters. It's really the Christian Coalition on steroids, as Ralph calls it," Marx said.

Reed was tapped by Pat Robertson to head the Christian Coalition when he was age 29. He was the right man for the job and quickly became the smiling face of the grass roots Christian right, and was known for getting voters to the polls.

"Ralph invented the game and how to play the game. He's got a PhD in political science," said Dr Richard Land the head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Church, the nation's largest Protestant denomination with 16 million members.

"He's one of them. He's an evangelical. He understands the evangelical and the conservative Catholic positions. He understand what rings their chimes and what doesn't."

"Any time Ralph Reed is involved in something it's going to make a difference. If I were running for office the very first thing i would do is hire Ralph as a consultant," Land said. "Ralph knows how to do this."

Land points to the group flexing their political muscle in the Virginia gubernatorial race in November 2009. "When (Reed) started the Faith and Freedom Coalition, they contacted 700,000 evangelical households in Virginia and McDonnell (the Republican candidate) ended up winning. That's households not individuals, so you're talking more than one vote a household in many cases."

Land will also be speaking at the conference. He sees the importance of speaking to Reed's core constituency. "For me the take away is I get a chance to inform activists and people who are going to be making a difference, envelope stuffing and ringing doorbells. That's an important thing."

"The people I spoke to were extremely activist oriented and had the ability to open their checkbooks," Erick Erickson a CNN contributor and editor of Redstate.com said of last year's conference where he was a featured speaker "It's no CPAC. It is not the Values Voters Summit. But it's still influential."

"I think Ralph Reed remains so influential because of habit," Erickson said. "He's always been the guy politicians go to to reach out to grass roots. He still has a lot of street cred with evangelicals."

And Erickson said the potential candidates are hoping to capture some of the same credibility.

"In my mind, I hate to be so cynical, I think the one word is 'Iowa.' The other three words are 'also South Carolina,' " he said.

"If you don't have evangelical street cred, you're not going to win Iowa."

In 2005, Reed could have lost all his street creed. He tried to move from the smoke-filled back rooms to the front of the podium when he ran for lieutenant governor in Georgia, where he had been running the state GOP party after leaving the Christian Coalition. At the time, he was connected through a trail of e-mails to Jack Abramoff.

It was revealed Reed had taken millions of dollars from Indian casinos to help lobby against a state lottery in Alabama. The move was viewed as hypocritical for Reed, who was openly anti-gambling. Abramoff ended up going to prison for his transgressions, but Reed faced no criminal charges.

"Most grass roots voters haven't paid attention to that," Erickson said. "The bulk of it is they don't pay attention and they haven't paid attention. The Jack Abramoff story was a big story in a lot of newspapers, but the Ralph Reed connection wasn't."

"Most evangelicals who know about it, view Ralph as a victim and that he was victimized by Abramoff like so many others," Land said adding, "Conservatives don't have any problem with people making money."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • DC • Politics • United States

soundoff (493 Responses)
  1. Martin

    "He's one of them. He's and evangelical." Nice editing.

    June 4, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  2. The Dude

    Lead those sheep to their slaughter....

    June 4, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  3. Pat

    There's only one person they should be kissing and that is the real God...There are false prophets all around us..

    June 4, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Marlene

      Amen to that and a lot of Christians are following them

      June 4, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  4. Christ follower

    What's the point of this article?

    June 4, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • E

      You really can't figure it out? Seriously? Given the criminal history of this man, you don't think it's a big deal that Repubs are bowing down to this minion of stan? and you claim to follow Christ?

      June 4, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  5. Charles

    Underneath the white sheet, the emperor has no clothes.

    June 4, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  6. maxdenn

    It's not Mr. Reed's ring they're kissing.

    June 4, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • God

      You've got THAT right!

      June 4, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  7. SoSad

    Thank god, that some of us republicans do not need "religious talking heads" to tell me how to vote. That's why the founding fathers insisted on seperation of state and religion! God was not a Republican and he was not a Democrat, he was an Independent, remember that!

    June 4, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Charles

      I'm very sorry to say SoSad, but your point of view has been soundly rejected by the movers and shakers of the GOP. The modern-day Republican is very quick to worship the Second Amendment, but then conveniently forgets the First. The visible leaders of the Republican Party is determined to make this one nation under Jesus.

      June 4, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • The Dude

      Jesus was Gay.. is this why the GOP are getting blown in airports?

      June 4, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  8. Steve Brinkhoff

    First, the term 'street cred' and 'evangelical' shouldn't be in the same sentence. And to use it three times..

    Second, I hope the good pastor isn't writing off his expenses as part of the tax exemption for churches.

    You can't serve God and mammon

    June 4, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  9. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    The Republicans cannot win the presidency without pandering to religious conservatives. Sad, but a fact of life.

    June 4, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  10. larry

    all religions were made up by human beings

    its all fake people, sorry to tell you this

    June 4, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • unowhoitsme

      Amen, brother!

      June 4, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  11. maxdenn

    Mr. Reed is one of the most narrow minded individuals to ever walk this planet.

    June 4, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Anonymouse

      Ralph Reed has presidential candidates kissing his ring. You're an internet commenter. Who's narrow?

      June 4, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  12. TOdd

    Ralph Reed has been a idiot since the late 80's.

    June 4, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  13. Glades2

    A terrible article, from every standpoint...

    June 4, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  14. just commenting

    Reed has always looked like a pedophile to me for some reason. Also, you don't need to take millions of dollars from native American-owned casinos to send out emails to your conservative base to vote against putting in casinos in Alabama.

    June 4, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • BobDobbs

      No... he looks like Fire Marshall Bill in this picture. Doesn't he?

      June 4, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  15. CJG

    That conference sounds like hell on earth.

    June 4, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  16. WIldMontana

    Even Goldwater detested the theocrats. When he was told they would remove his name from the Republican headquarters in AZ for his comments, he told the AZ party chair that he would get his ladder and help him.

    June 4, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  17. Donald in CA

    Another right wing religious looney. Dont be fooled by the
    boyish face. The devil in sheeps clothing. But these folks
    are important to the gop.

    June 4, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  18. Mike

    You know, I have a personal theory. I have a hunch that if the major parties stopped catering to their respective lunatic fringes, in other words stopped kissing the backsides of the Righteous Right and the Lunatic Left and actually paid attention to where most of the people are, which is somewhere in the middle, America would be a much happier place,

    June 4, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Joan

      Yeah, you're absolutely right.

      But dream on. The political parties, both of them, see too much advantage in "shoring up the base" whose votes they had anyway. There's money, and therefore power, in the politics of division and telling the weak-minded who to hate. No one understands that like Ralph Reed.

      June 4, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Norma Bass

      I agree!

      June 4, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • avc

      Well said, but it will never happen. I am not sure the middle gives enough money and we don't attract enough media attention as the fringe groups do. So until the election is almost over and they need our votes do they start paying attention to the sane part of America.

      June 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • MIJohn

      Be nice (though personally I don't see the Democrats catering all that much to the far left). Not going to happen though as long as only a tiny fraction of people get out and vote in each election. If you got 1000 wackos per side out of say 30,000 voters they don't have a lot of power; when only say 5000 of those voters turn out for an off-year election though appealing to that bloc of 1000 fanatics seems tempting.

      For about 200 years it wasn't a problem because people who could vote made it a point to vote constantly – people actually considered it important enough that when the day came around to vote they would schedule a day or three to do so. Of course these people also considered politics and governance topics for discussion over fences and social gatherings so most people who could vote had at least some grasp of the issues. For the last 40 years though everything has gone to hell; turns out commonly under 50% unless it's a presidential year and people are encourage to discuss anything BUT politics. We literally have a society that is training people to surrender their stake in the nation to small groups of single-issue fanatics.

      June 4, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
  19. SNAPPA

    The republican party is becoming more and more like the Taliban everyday. Every since the '90's the religious right has hijacked the party and led it down a road most won't follow. From banning womans health services to limiting gay rights these people are nothing more than a religious agenda waitng to spring itself on the populace just like the Taliban. I really do believe that if Linclon were alive today he would be a democrat.

    June 4, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Jimbo

      Are you saying that because he suspended habeas corpus? Or are you saying that because the Emancipation Proclamation was issued 2 years after the beginning of the Civil War and only applied to slaves in southern states and not slaves in border states or in the north? I bet Lincoln would have been a Democrat, too. I keep hearing words like "tolerance" and "coexist" from liberals. Wouldn't that mean that you should be accepting of the viewpoints of others?

      June 4, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • just commenting

      I agree. I think we're headed for our own revolutionary Spring.

      June 4, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  20. sim

    Dear Raplhie" Remember Jack Abramoff? We do. Remember all that cash you took on the casino deal? We do. Did Jebus tell you to do that? We don't care. Take your corruption and your Howy Doody smile and jump into the nearest sewer. Then stay where you belong.

    June 4, 2011 at 10:02 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.