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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. The Doo-dah Man

    I'm a lacto-ovo atheist. LOL

    June 3, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  2. twgloege

    Ralph and Sarah have both figured out how to get rich bilking their gullible followers. Good for Ralph – it's like Barnum said "every crowd has a silver lining."

    June 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  3. Ralph Reed - America's Taliban

    This guy would steal gold out of person's teeth. He would push our country further into decline of hatrred and intolerance but bow out if the money was right.

    June 3, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  4. settino

    Religion is a scam! Wake up people!

    June 3, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  5. VA_Jill

    Ralph Reed and his buddies will combine with the Tea Party and will eventually sink the Republican party.

    June 3, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  6. Ralph Reed

    Guys why are you all picking on me so much? I only say I'm Christian because it helps me make money, I don't even really know what they stand for tbh.

    June 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  7. Matt

    "It's really the Christian Coalition on steroids, as Ralph calls it": Yep, that *does* sum up the Tea Party pretty well – desperate to be "the best" at any cost, prone to fits of uncontrollable rage, and with testicles shrunk to the size of chickpeas...

    June 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • PeasRus

      yummm, i like hummus

      June 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  8. Alex

    So sad how they act like sheep voting as one block by listening to this guy. No sense of individualism or choice.

    And a PhD in political science? How many PhD Poli Sci experts are there and what is the peer review process for that lol. Wasteful.

    June 3, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  9. Pete

    The Taliban has guns. So do these folks. Ring any warning bells?

    June 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • MIJohn

      The Taliban could actually hit what they were aiming at though. These guys would pull the trigger and end up killing everyone around them but the guy they were aiming at.

      June 4, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  10. Michael

    "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money." -Matthew 6:24

    June 3, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  11. Thomas

    According to the Wikipedia article, the Catholic Church in full communion with the Pope is the "largest single religious denomination in the United States" comprising about 22 percent of the population.

    June 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • gerald

      Catholicism is not really a denomination. It traces all the way back to Christ. From Catholicism others denominated. Any encyclopedia's list of Popes will show this. Bishops can be traced back to the apostles as well.

      June 3, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @gerald,
      I understand that the CC wants to emphasize it's claim of primacy in the whole Christianity thing, but I've never understood the distinction that it places on "denomination". How does it not fit these definitions?

      " a religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices"
      (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/denomination)

      "a religious group which has slightly different beliefs from other groups which share the same religion"
      (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/denomination_1)

      June 3, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  12. GMD4219

    Please dont judge Christians by anyone activley involving faith and politics. It does not work and can only lead to hypocrisy. As above.

    June 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  13. SoSad

    Ralph Reed is a danger to American, wake up people. God will judge Reed and delcare him EVIL, I say EVIL. For the love of money, he has sold his SOUL!

    June 3, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • settino

      all religions are about money. It's a business like any other. Why people can't see it is beyond me!

      June 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  14. Linda

    The religious right only cares about shoving their extremist beliefs forcefully down American throats. If that can be done via the White House and/or Congress, all the better. Any candidate who plays footsie with the religious right will NOT get my vote. Ever.

    June 3, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Steve - Dallas

      I don't care what Christians do in the privacy of their own homes. I just don't think they should be allowed to flaunt their scary beliefs in public.

      June 3, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  15. dhuff

    "Most evangelicals who know about it, view Ralph as a victim and that he was victimized by Abramoff like so many others,"

    Victim my a**. Just proves that Christian Conservatives are both hypocritical and undeserving of the label "Christian."

    June 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  16. The Doo-dah Man

    Our government is made up of people. Most people believe in some version of spirituality. It is inrealistic, and somewhat unAmerican to suggest that believers leave their beliefs at the door when they become law makers. Truly spiritual people will use their faith to giuide them...but seeing eye dogmas should remain harnessed. When anyone's belief is that we should curtail the rights of others (especially based on religion) or that only the properly religious need apply, we have a problem. The list of guests to this little shindig is a who's who of people who think muslims shouldn't be allowed to have all the freedoms and protections as everyone else. That makes this conference not about faith and freedom but about RW christian dogma

    June 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  17. broke...$

    Land said adding, "Conservatives don't have any problem with people making money." ...says it all.

    June 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  18. Gerry Daley

    When did "social conservative" become an acceptable euphimism for "ignorant bigot"?

    June 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  19. Mike

    What would Jesus think of the likes of Reed's who are making millions of dollars in the name of reliogion?

    June 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  20. Brian

    Rasputin was known as a "whisperer."

    June 3, 2011 at 3:54 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.