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Ralph Reed to the Rescue? How Clueless Romney Could Still Win

The left shouldn't underestimate Reed's billionaire-bankrolled right-wing voting machine.

Ralph Reed addresses a gathering sponsored by Patriot Voices at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Photo Credit: A.M. Stan



The recent spate of Romney  gaffes and big old  screw-ups has elicited  braying from the liberal  punditry class, a number of whose members have declared the election over, adding “loser” to the resume of the successful businessman and not-so-successful former governor who bears the standard of the Republican Party in this year’s presidential election.

Not so fast. The truth is, national polls don’t amount to a hill of beans in this election. What counts is turnout and, as  AlterNet reported in July, political operative and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed is putting together an impressive get-out-the-vote operation, via his organization, Faith and Freedom Coalition, which funded by right-wing billionaires. Now that the New York Times weighed in with a  front-page Sunday piece by Jo Becker about Reed’s organizing, perhaps the liberal establishment will take a deep breath and reassess whether its triumphalism is warranted -- or even helpful to the liberal cause.

The reason the national polls don’t so much matter in 2012 is that an ever-shrinking percentage of the electorate remains undecided about whom to vote for, with this year’s “persuadable” voters estimated at around 6 percent. And Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg, appearing Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union,  suggested that as few as half of those pollsters identify as persuadable “likely voters” will actually make it to the polls.

That all adds up to a mere handful of states actually deciding the election, given our winner-take-all electoral college. On our polarized political landscape, the red states will vote Republican, the blue states, Democratic. That leaves a total of nine states  deemed battlegrounds by Politico (and, yes, love them or hate them, Politico is really good at this kind of thing).

President Barack Obama may be pulling ahead in the national polls, but among those nine battleground states, only one -- Wisconsin -- shows Obama with a commanding lead. While Obama is gaining ground in the remaining eight, they are still  marked as “toss-ups” by the poll geeks at Real Clear Politics.

And guess where Ralph Reed, with a reported $10 million budget (and maybe more), is working? In every one of those states.

Learning from the Obama campaign

The victory narrative from the 2008 campaign is that the  Obama team closely studied the playbook assembled by Karl Rove (now a Republican  sugar daddy in his own right) for the 2004 Bush campaign, and appropriated a number of its methods.

So who is Ralph Reed studying? The Obama campaign of 2008. As Reed  told the activists who attended his Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington last June, in 2008, the Obama campaign “ran circles around us.”

"I founded Faith and Freedom Coalition because I vowed that as long as I was alive, we were never going to get out-hustled on the ground again," he said.

In Florida alone, Reed said, his organization had identified 200,000 unregistered conservative Christians, and FFC planned not only to sign them up, but to make sure they voted, even if they had to drive them to the polls himself. And it's not just religious voters he's after; any right-wing voter will do, and Reed is determined to find them all.

Florida is legendary as both a closely-fought state, and one where the politics is extremely dirty. This year, Gov. Rick Scott entered the  annals of electoral chicanery by purging the voter rolls of those his operatives decided might be undocumented immigrants, or dead, or otherwise unqualified to vote. (Reed is a veteran of the Bush 2000 campaign -- need I say more?)

As Robert Arnakis of the Leadership Institute explained at a recent workshop conducted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition in Washington, D.C., told two dozen activists, "You know, we don't want to turn out all voters. The fact of the matter is, we want to turn out voters who think like us and who vote like us."

Vote early, if not often

One of the keys to Obama’s victory in closely-fought states such as North Carolina was the campaign’s use of  early voting laws to get voters to lock in their choice before the final weeks of the election. (Here's an  Obama video from the 2008 North Carolina primary.) At the Values Voter Summit convened by FRC Action, the political arm of the Family Research Council, earlier this month, Gary Marx, Reed’s right-hand man at the Faith and Freedom Coalition joined Robert Arnakis of Morton Blackwell’s Leadership Institute to school activists in GOTV strategies.

Arnakis went on at length about early voting, and the use of absentee ballots in states where there are no early voting laws. In his home state of Virginia, Arnakis said, he had to give the state a reason for needing to vote absentee, so he and his wife scheduled a vacation for election day, since his work for the season will have ended by then.