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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. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    The Bible says "there will be false prophets" and I believe this to be true that's why I put no man between myself and God. The Son of God died on the cross for me, what living man would do the same for me, none.

    June 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • yalie

      More demagogues?

      June 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • settino

      you really need to be a moron to believe in religion. What a scam. People will follow anything anywhere for no reason.

      June 4, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  2. Bill

    Wrong Wrong Wrong Wrong Wrong ..... Ralph Reed is so marginalized it is not even funny .... he is a pathetic, rcist joke among most evangelicals ... i say this because I am one of those evangelicals. There is no such thing as Tea Party Christians or Tea Party Evangelicans because, by definition, those associated with the Tea Party and its racist, me-first philosophy are NOT Christian ..... you want the evangelical vote? You'd better go through the REAL evangelical power - Mike Huckabee. You get Huckabee's endorsement and maybe, just maybe, I will vote for you.

    June 4, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  3. Spockky

    Looks like we are all tired of religion and it's vast negative implications. Evangelicals that I have met turned out to be some of the worst human beings that I have ever known.

    June 4, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  4. Blue

    Why would the GOP bring back Reed? Are thye trying to completely destroy their party?

    June 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • 21k

      here's hoping.

      June 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  5. ben

    How many angry White People Rallies do have to cover? The fact that a group of white people don't like a black President pulling us out of a hole they created is not news. It expected!!

    June 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  6. Mesa Mick

    This hack Reed is just another religious grifter being supported by the donations from all those delusional, low information crakers flying the jesus freak flag.

    June 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • JohnO

      Jesus is not a freak but everything else seems to be right on.

      June 4, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  7. truth2power

    Religion has no place in politics.
    When it does become involved it warps both the political process and religion itself.
    Only those who desire power at any cost or are religiously obsessed/unhealthy would disagree.

    June 4, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  8. ufadoof

    Jesus was a republican? Who knew?

    June 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Bill

      I'll say this slowly ... ralph reed DOES NOT represent evangelicals or Christians of any type.

      June 4, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  9. 21k

    a VERY good buddy of jack abramoff, remember him? ralphie-boy didn't act very much like ja-sus, but i guess when you make the rules, you never break them.

    June 4, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  10. Pete Beck

    The jury may still be out on Ron Paul, but my money and support is behind him. I will never be comfortable with "government by lobby" and will vote for the candidate who has least sold his or her soul to special interests. If Paul makes the de rigueur speech to AIPAC, I may just stay home on election day. I want a candidate to be unapologetically pro-life and a strong fiscal conservative. A candidate who pledges allegiance to the United States ONLY!

    June 4, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  11. Alan Hays

    This monster has been the de facto face of the republican party for years. He makes my skin crawl, and I love every time he's brought out and paraded around as the "human" face of the party that screws this great country in the name of religion. A simple google search will show his true colors, that of corruption, slime, lies, hate, and a genuine sociopath, unable to relate his actions to a conscience. Hey! just like the GOP!

    June 4, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • rigel54

      I couldn't agree with you more! I remember when he first appeared, a wormy, vicious religious nut-case. I was voting Republican back then, for geopolitical reasons. Now the whole party is like that, irrational, corrupt, self-absorbed religious wackos robbing the middle class, the old, and the weak for corporate rich (and themselves).

      June 4, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  12. kfl0wek

    Is Ralph Reed a woman? Looks like a woman in the face

    June 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  13. Thinquer

    Would Jesus carry a gun and vote republican? Just askin'...

    June 4, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Bill

      No He wouldn't

      June 4, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • settino

      he would be carrying a virgin hoping to screw her

      June 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  14. matthew

    How about "Why isn't Ralph Reed in jail"? That's the story I'd like the answers to. Hey CNN, why not try reporting some news instead of just repeating what you're told?

    June 4, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  15. Canadian

    Its hard not to think that everyone of these squeaky-clean idealistic goody-2shoes are all just Ted Haggard's waiting to happen!

    June 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  16. Steve

    blah, blah, blah. may the best presidential candidate win Christian or non-Christian. As long as they have good ideas and a good brain. I am a Christian to did I mention that. If they support my values as a citizen I will vote for them.

    June 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  17. Tim Jordan

    Reed is in great company with Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, George Rekers, Ted Haggard, Peter Popoff, Robert Tilton, Paul Crouch, Aimee Semple McPherson, and a seemingly endless list of Christer conmen. When will Americans wake up to this nonsense?

    June 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  18. Mike

    Another fraud......Lets move on

    June 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  19. Jimmy3

    The bigots are swarming.....

    June 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  20. BuB

    Reed SOLICITED the gambling money from Abramoff. It is in the same Senate testimony where he conspired with Abramoff to to use gambling money to influence Alabama elections. Abramoff bragged to Reed how he spent over $13M to get Governor Riley elected. (and called Riley a co******er in an email to Reed) Incidentally, Bob Riley spent millions of tax dollars closing all bingo halls in Alabama shortly before leaving office. That's fine, but would he have done it if he had not accepted Abramoff's client's money? To me, Reed is nothing but a "money changer in the Temple" and I am ashamed that our GOP hopefuls would have anything less than contempt for him – especially Ron Paul.

    June 4, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
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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.