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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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The last few years haven't been easy ones for Ralph Reed.

The former Christian Coalition executive director and religious right strategist ran for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2006. Early on, the race looked to be a cakewalk. Political observers predicted Reed would easily win the position, use it as a steppingstone to the governor's mansion and perhaps bag a Senate seat, or even seek the White House after that.

But Reed hit a serious pothole on his road to victory. His ties to disgraced casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff became an issue, and Georgia Republicans quickly threw Reed under the bus. On Election Day, he lost decisively to State Sen. Casey Cagle 56 percent to 44 percent.

Undeterred, Reed tried to reinvent himself as a novelist. In 2008, he published Dark Horse, a political thriller about an independent candidate seeking the White House. It tanked.

Although Reed worked for the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and helped Arizona GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain raise money in 2008, he has been mostly out of the limelight since stepping down as the head of the Christian Coalition in 1997.

With his political career on the rocks, and his attempt to become a Christian fundamentalist version of John Grisham in shreds, what is Reed to do?

One answer: Get back to basics. Reed recently announced that he is jumping back into the political fray by forming a new religious right group.

Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition will target white evangelical Christians but also reach out to new audiences, including Hispanics, blacks, women and young people.

"This is not your daddy's Christian Coalition," Reed told U.S. News & World Report 's Dan Gilgoff. "It's got to be more brown, more black, more female and younger. It's critical that we open the door wide and let them know, if they share our values and believe in the principles of faith and marriage and family, they're welcome."

But Reed was also cagey about the group's reach. His coalition currently has just one staffer in its Washington office, and Reed has talked about the group doing most of its work over the Web with so-called virtual chapters.

So far, the group's Web site is studded with the same shopworn Obama-bashing and far-right rhetoric that can be found on any number of conservative sites.

It's a far cry from the heyday of the Christian Coalition, which pulled in $25 million annually in flush years and drew 4,000 to the nation's capital for its "Road to Victory" conferences.

Even as Reed was gearing up for another run at the political spotlight, a second religious right figure re-emerged from semi-obscurity: Anti-abortion activist Randall Terry has begun making the rounds again.

Terry grabbed headlines after the slaying of Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in May. Deliberately seeking to be provocative, Terry booked a room at the National Press Club in Washington to say that Tiller got what he deserved.

The performance was vintage Terry: Toss something outrageous to the media and watch the ensuing fireworks.

Tiller's killing provided Terry with the soapbox he has been looking for. Once prominent for leading raucous protests at abortion clinics in the 1980s, the 50-year-old activist never fully left the movement, although his public profile declined greatly during the 1990s.

Prior to the Tiller shooting, Terry was leading right-wing Catholics opposed to President Barack Obama's appearance at the University of Notre Dame's commencement and trying to drum up opposition to Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor.