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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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Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and a longtime observer of the religious right, said Reed "faces two daunting realities. First of all, many people no longer trust him within the conservative movement because of his connection to lobbying, gambling, and other things seen by some as bad. Second, I just think that the Family Research Council has done -- sadly -- a magnificent job of filling the gap and expanding the universe of people who were previously interested in the Christian Coalition."

Yet Reed continues to elicit effusive praise from fellow evangelicals. The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody claims FFC "is indeed poised to be a major player in the 2010 and 2012 elections." About Reed's association with Abramoff, Scheffler told RD, "if you look at the whole explanation it was a nonissue, it was the press that made something out of nothing that was there." He added that Iowa activists were "excited" that Reed was the master of ceremonies for the Iowa Christian Alliance's fundraiser this week, at which Rick Santorum was the keynote speaker.

Cindy Costa, the Republican National Committeewoman for South Carolina and former Christian Coalition activist, told RD that Reed is a "fine gentleman" and "helpful to the conservative movement." After an FFC organizing event in Tennessee last week, Richard Land, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, called the FFC "one of the most important forces for sound public policy in America in the coming years." And GOP operative Chip Saltsman, forced to pull out of the race for Republican National Committee chair last year after he distributed a "Barack the Magic Negro" CD, added that FFC "has already been effective in identifying and turning out conservative voters and we're pleased to bring it to Tennessee."

But Lynn thinks Reed won't be able to compete with the goliath that FRC's Tony Perkins has built, and suggested that Reed exaggerates his capabilities. "Even when the Christian Coalition claimed strength locally, a lot of those local chapters were virtually nonexistent," he said. "They just didn't have the commitment or resources." Perkins, on the other hand, "has connected with a lot of local churches." Reed, Lynn added, "had that as a vision but didn't achieve it... You can't compete when you have the well-oiled machine that Tony Perkins has."

Sarah Posner is associate editor of Religion Dispatches and author of God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters . Read her blog or follow her on Twitter.