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. Not All Docs Play Golf

    Ronald Reagan, in private, actually had a certain disdain for the far evangelical right. Nonethelees, he didn't hesitate to court that voting block, at the time the then-new "moral majority," and it actually swept him into office by about that margin. That actually started the marriage between the Republican party and the evangelicals. I, for one, want religion OUT of government. I'm sick of the Republican party claiming to be the party of faith and values. If Christ himself voted, I think he'd be more alligned with the party that cares about the downtrodden. Republicans don't have a monopoly on values and morals. But they have been able to use the single abortion rights issue to snare the evangelical voters like butterflies in a net. It's the worst of demagoguery.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  2. Barking Alien

    The religious right took a "Ralph" all over the American people.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  3. The Doo-dah Man

    Where do you get your twisted idea that atheists want no limits on behavior? For instance I think religious zealots shouldn't be so obnoxiously self-righteous...I would kindly request (not legislate) that you stop usintg sweeping generalizations about other people. For the record, this atheist belives people should listen to the teachings of Jesus regarding loving your neighbor, turning the other cheek and being meek (or read the Dr Seuss version of it). I don't need all the hocus pocus stuff that goes along with that to make me behave in a way that doesn't mess up other people's lives. But back at ya! Go live in Iran where gays are in the closet and God's word is spoken through government....if you wany a theocracy, go live in one. My country makes no laws establishing religion and has no religious litmus test for holding public office.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Steve Brinkhoff

      I wish there was no litmus test, but the fact is you can't get elected dog catcher in this country unless you publicly proclaim your godly Christian beliefs – regardless of what you actually believe.

      June 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  4. steve505

    The only thing worse than a politician is a religious politician.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Adelina

      You are wrong, if they are a Christian then they are good.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • skipper

      @Adelina – No offense, but your posts do not help your cause (for which I am also for). Thats a blanket statement and honestly most of the politicians who claim to be Christian only do so for their own benefit, and often times they are caught being downright hypocrites.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Dan

      @Adelina: no, the Christian politicians are the worst of all! I'll vote for a Jew or a Muslim politician over a Christian any day.

      June 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  5. WMesser58

    Reed is a shill and snake like most people in religion. They try and shove their beliefs on everyone never realizing no one cares about what they believe. Just like how they never get that they could live in peace if they kept to themselves and not demand everybody act like they preach.

    Historically though if you look they are the ones that break their own beliefs. They can't live by their own rules. Pathetic !!!!!

    June 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  6. The Doo-dah Man

    Re: Psalm 14:1

    Why would you think quoting bible passages about atheism would have any effect on an atheist?

    I don't try to scare christians into giving up their faith....or try to convert them at all...why can't evangelicals leave the rest of us alone? Over all, I don't think inflexible religious belief is good for society (it's not all bad either) but you have every right to believe what you want...shouldn't atheists and muslims and scientologists and hindus and Jews have the same right?

    June 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • scoobers

      they do lol.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Scary

      Quoting from a book of pure fiction doesn't make you right. Even your own ministers say that the book is not all about things that really happened. Some of them are allegories.

      June 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  7. nick2

    Perhaps if the Republicans were more concerned with the present, than the life hereafter, they might actually be able to contribute to the nation's woes.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • holly

      I think you meant contribute soloutions to the nation's woes. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Republican party AND the democratic party have long since souled (spelling intentional) out to huge corporations to be manipulated in exchange for tons of money and campaign support. Power trip! Everyone's beloved Obama just deregulated Genetically Modified foods while the world was watching Egypt, so they can sneek it in wherever they want. The European Union has banned them because of their negative health effects, but before the ban the public over there was smart enough to stop buying GMO products, so it had lost it's economic incentive anyway. Not so in the agriculturally moronic US.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  8. Chris

    I never thought I'd see Ralph Reed on the political stage after all he's done.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  9. taylor


    June 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  10. taylor

    That just makes me fall down and laugh till i pee, do you mean old ralphie reed,
    old jack abramoff get down on your knees and pray moneyman, screw the indians,
    old time religious ralphie reed, with his hand out to any takers, get real, how much
    did he pay you to write this article, you freaking idiot.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  11. skipper

    I hope all the atheists are truly as happy as they claim to be. I have a fair amount of friends who all claim the same but it's painfully obvious that it is not the case no matter how often they say it......just sayin

    June 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Ancient Curse

      C'mon, Skipper... I could say the same thing about the faithful that claim to be happy but are obviously not.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • skipper

      @Ancient – Good point, and yes you are correct. However I certainly find this to be more true of atheists.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • David, CA

      Passive agressive much? Just sayin.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Jay (The other one)

      skipper, try to pay attention. This is not about if religion makes you "happy" or not, it's a matter of if you want a bunch of fundamentalists running the government.

      Beer makes me happy, but that doesn't mean I think "Norm" from Cheers should be in congress.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • skipper

      @David – Lol, no aggression, maybe you should re-read the posts. Read much? Just sayin

      June 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Colin

      Skipper, I disagree with you, but that is probably because I am an atheist and pretty happy in life. But, even if what you say were true, it is totally beside the point as to whther there is a god etc. As GBS once said "The fact that a religious man might be happier than a non-believer is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober man."

      June 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • skipper

      @Jay – I understand that however I wasn't referring to the article, just my opinion on atheism. I also agree, I don't want those phonies running our government...and yes they are phonies who are money hungry and fake. A person can claim to be anything, whether they actually are or not is a different story.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • skipper

      @Collin – Touche, good point. I'll think about that one.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • ScottK

      Most atheists are what they claim to be since it would be hard to say you don't believe in God but secretly hope he doesn't strike you down for your blasphemy. Now if it's a secret atheist who proclaims belief in God because he knows it will help win votes or get him a better job or keep conversations civil at neighborhood block parties then I agree, shame on him for making it harder on the rest of us. It would be like a gay man living his life as a straight man just to fit in but obviously that doesn't happen much because America is so accepting of who they are... (that was meant to be sarcastic for all those who don't understand humor).

      June 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • tallulah13

      You are making a broad generalization without a single shred of proof. Some people may think that you are making things up just to feel important or better about yourself..

      Just sayin'.

      June 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • asrael

      Interesting post from one who claims to have "a fair amount" of friends...

      June 3, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • LinCA

      Hey Skipper. You got some scientific data to back up your claim?

      While you look for that, also look here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1388827/Atheists-better-s ex-religious-followers-plagued-guilt.html

      Atheists have more fun in the sack.

      June 4, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  12. Jay (The other one)

    I miss the days when semi-literate evangelical bumpkins sent their own money off to faith healers on T.V., instead of wasting taxpayer dollars starting wars and lying to kids by telling them "God did it" is science.

    Evan's point above is good, too. Ralph Reed should have gone to prison along with Jack Abramoff. But don't expect the evangelicals to say that. They're too busy hating on gays and proudly declaring their moral superiority to educate themselves about the hucksters leading them astray. Larnin' is elitist, after all.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  13. MM

    The photo caption reads "Rep. Jeff Sessions (R-TX)..." Jeff Sessions is an Alabama senator, Pete Sessions is the House member from Texas. Good proof reading CNN.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  14. Colin

    Yessir, what is your point?

    It's a religious book. It's ha.rdly likely to say "The intelligent skeptic is reluctant to believe in sky-gods and other supernatural claims in the absence of pretty convincing evidence" now is it?

    Does it not make you even a little susp.icious that the main personality trait that seems to be valued above any by this god of yours, is meek, unquestioning belief?

    June 3, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Yessir

      I wouldn't say that's the unquestioning point of the Bible. I've been in your shoes, didn't used to believe either and trust me I'm not calling you dumb or saying your unintelligent. But when actually analyzing and doing deep thorough analysis, you'd be surprised at what you can find. Just try to research as much as you can and I'm sure you'll find the way.

      June 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  15. paganguy

    I like the Chinese way: You can practice any religion you like but you can't be a government/public official of any kind. True separation of church and state.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  16. tallulah13

    So they've gathered the usual suspects. Whoopee! It's kind of like a Star Trek convention. They same people always show up, the same people always talk, and money gets spent. But then, the Star Trek convention is actually fun so many it's not a fair comparison.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  17. fierybuddha

    Why is the GOP so enraptured w/evangelical ministers, and why do their endorsements count so much?

    I personally prefer my heathen Dems. Much more honest, and much more fun at parties. I'd say they get better drugs, but that's sadly been proven wrong by too many GOPers.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • David, CA

      Because it's easier to pander for votes to an ignorant, paranoid, gullible, psychotics as "evangelicals".

      June 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  18. mike kerns

    Ralph Reed. Just another example of the right wings hypocrisy. They have no honour or decency.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  19. Evan

    The truth is that Ralph Reed should have gone to prison along with Jack Abramoff for all the millions in tribal money he was apart of bilking.

    June 3, 2011 at 2:23 pm |

    Run Snookie Palin run!

    June 3, 2011 at 2:22 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.