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Religious Right Has-Beens Try for a Resurrection

Will financial and sex scandals sink the hopes of middle-age culture warriors Ralph Reed and Randall Terry? Don't count them out just yet.

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When the lobbying scandal broke, e-mails between Reed and Abramoff became public: They did not portray Reed positively -- the two spoke frankly about their manipulation of conservative religious groups.

Reed often came off as greedy. In one e-mail, Reed joked that money owed him should be sent to "the Reed Family Retirement and Educational Foundation" in the Cayman Islands -- a location notorious for its loose banking laws and reputation as an offshore tax shelter.

Reed, who was never charged with a crime in connection with the Abramoff affair, walked away with $4 million. It was a nice payoff, but it came with a price: Many of Reed's associates in the religious right believed they had been rolled. It's unclear if they are willing to work with him again.

Instead, Reed may try to bypass the old guard and work to create a new generation of activists. He told one right-wing Web site that his movement will definitely emphasize new technology, relying on tools like Facebook and Twitter, and will mobilize college students.

"We need to be hipper, more technology savvy," Reed said. "This is where the culture is going, and we need to be there if we're going to compete."

Indeed, the Faith and Freedom Coalition's Web site is heavy with YouTube clips and social network buttons for Facebook, Twitter and others -- the same tools that can be found on the home page of virtually any activist group these days.

Terry, meanwhile, faces similar problems: Many of his old friends have turned their backs on him. Other abortion opponents say they are alienated by Terry's confrontational tactics and constant self-promotion.

Terry's problems stem from a different source from Reed's: His weakness was his zipper, not his wallet.

In 2000, Terry abruptly divorced his first wife, leaving her in New York with the couple's three children. A year later, he married a younger woman who had served as a volunteer in one of his congressional campaigns. The couple has since had four children.

The move was not popular in the fundamentalist community. Terry's church outside of Binghamton, N.Y., excommunicated him. Undaunted, he aligned with another conservative Protestant church before converting to Roman Catholicism in 2005.

Terry recently moved from Washington, where he says he plans to launch a new version of Operation Rescue, the rabidly anti-abortion group he ran throughout the 1980s and '90s. (The current leadership of Operation Rescue, which has taken pains to distance themselves from Terry, may have something to say about that. Terry and Troy Newman, who now run the group, have sparred in court over the use of the name.)

Like Reed, Terry tried to step away from religious-right politics and the culture wars for a time. He moved to Nashville, Tenn., at one point and recorded two CDs, one country-and-western and one gospel.

But Terry's nascent musical career flopped, and he soon returned to what he knows best: ranting and raving about legal abortion.

While their trajectories may be similar, Reed and Terry are unlike in one very important way: Reed has always labored to paste a pleasant face on his political activities. While he certainly employed some strong rhetoric, Reed worked to portray the Christian Coalition as a nonthreatening collection of well-educated and upwardly mobile activists (whether they were or not remains open to debate).

A common Reed claim was that the religious right merely wanted a place at the table, to be part of the political dialogue. Reed may have harbored theocratic dreams, but he kept them under wraps.