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Ralph Reed is Back, Hoping to Harness the Energy of the Tea Party Movement

Ralph Reed hopes to bury his past by bringing together the two most energetic right-wing movements: the Tea Party and the religious right.

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O'Neal Dozier, pastor of the Worldwide Christian Church in Pompano Beach, Florida, and a Christian Coalition of Florida board member, said that the board voted last year to "come under the umbrella of" the FFC. For an organization that was low on funds, said Dozier, it was "a great opportunity that we felt we couldn't pass up."

Now Dozier also serves on the FFC board, and says that the affiliation brings "more fundraising capabilities. With Faith and Freedom and with Ralph being known as he is, we can get more conservatives involved and coming to functions that we have in order to raise funds," both locally and nationally. "It costs a lot of money to print voter guides," he chuckled.

Dozier, whose extreme views have caused him some trouble in Florida politics, has been fighting the construction of a mosque near his church because he claims it has ties to terrorists. "The Muslim people we believe are beautiful people," he told RD. "They're beautiful people, we just believe that the Muslim people are victims of a very dangerous and evil religion and that religion is Islam." He said that neither the Christian Coalition nor the FFC would get involved in his mosque-fighting efforts, and that while they would continue to stick with the traditional social issues, he wanted to see a focus on economic concerns.

"Social conservative who talked about economic issues"

As early as 1993, Reed had been pushing the religious right to broaden its appeal, arguing that it "has limited its effectiveness by concentrating disproportionately on issues such as abortion and homosexuality." Now -- as his business partner Tim Phillips heads up Tea Party astroturf group Americans for Prosperity -- he's burrowing for an opening to convince activists that social and economic issues are linked. He recently described an overlap between Tea Party activists and his organization on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Religious right activists see that overlap too, but not yet a marriage between themselves and the Tea Party movement. But Reed's efforts seem directed at capitalizing on panic over "socialism" whipped up by the Tea Partiers. Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Christian Alliance (a successor organization to what used to be the Christian Coalition chapter in Iowa, and which is in the process of forming an Iowa FFC affiliate), said that the "one thing" social conservatives and Tea Party activists "are knitted together on is their dislike, their distrust, their disgust with Obama's march toward socialism, which is a takeover of every facet of a person's life." Scheffler is an old hand of the religious right in Iowa, sought after by Republican presidential candidates seeking advantage in the state's early caucuses.

The FFC, said Scheffler, "will address a wider range agenda, social issues plus economic issues, issues that are important to traditional families." He pointed to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (for whom FFC helped mobilize voters) "as a perfect example" of a "social conservative who talked about economic issues," a combination Scheffler maintained is required to get elected. The Virginia FFC paid for robocalls recorded by Huckabee and Sarah Palin endorsing McDonnell, though the McDonnell campaign tried to distance itself from the Palin endorsement.

While Dozier said he was a tea partier himself, he added that he wouldn't want either the Christian Coalition or the FFC to endorse or partner with the Tea Party movement. The left, he maintained, has portrayed the Tea Party movement as "a crazy, right-wing party," and the Christian Coalition and FFC are, he said, "mainstream conservative organizations" that he wouldn't want "lumped in" with that.