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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.

The following is reprinted with permission from Religion Dispatches. You can sign up for their free daily newsletter here.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition leader and confederate of convicted felon Jack Abramoff, is making his bid for restored respectability and power in right-wing politics. This weekend, as Tea Party groups convene on the nation's capital to mark the first anniversary of last year's taxpayer march on Washington, Reed's latest venture, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, will host its debut Washington, D.C., "conference and strategy briefing," starting tomorrow at the historic Mayflower Hotel. (Sarah Palin is listed a an "invited speaker" though her place on the roster has yet to be confirmed.) "This will be an exciting weekend of featured speakers, networking and training workshops as we prepare for the November elections," reads the conference registration page on the organization's Web site. Earlier this year, Sarah Posner filed this report on Reed's attempt at a comeback.

Last November, the evangelist James Robison, an early organizer of the religious right and a mentor to the young Mike Huckabee, was ruminating about the state of the nation. He and his wife, Betty, he said, were increasingly worried about the country "drifting away from what I call 'foundation principles,'" the "foundational belief system based solidly upon the truths found in the scriptures."

Robison, whose daily talk show favors affable studio chats about Jesus and personal fulfillment to politically-charged polemic, packed a series of religious right dog whistles into his lament about the country's downward spiral. The founders, he said, believed in the word of God, and came to America looking for "spiritual freedom." The founders were dedicated, he went on, to "a very limited government that functioned to protect that freedom," a version of history that "not many get to anymore in our public school system."

Robison then introduced his antidote to the fallen nation: the recently resurrected Republican political operative Ralph Reed. The one-time golden boy of the conservative movement -- sullied by the Christian Coalition's decline under his leadership, and later his sordid partnership with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- was making the rounds promoting his new incarnation, the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

In introducing Reed as a guest on his program, Robison gushed that when he learned of Reed's new political effort, he exclaimed, "faith and freedom? I said, 'I've just been praying about that.'"

It Costs a Lot of Money to Print Voter Guides

Whether Reed is the answer to the conservative movement's prayers remains to be seen. But he is engaged in a full-court press to re-create the Christian Coalition for the 21st century through FFC affiliates in the states, a process already underway in Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, California, Virginia, and Tennessee.

In announcing last March that he had decided against running for the Congressional seat being vacated by retiring Georgia Republican John Linder, Reed promised supporters, "In 2010 and 2012, FFC will register an estimated one million new faith-based voters and make tens of millions of voter contacts in what may be the largest conservative get-out-the-vote effort in modern political history." Reed, who has been suspected of exaggerating the numbers of Christian Coalition members and distributed voter guides, promised his for-profit Century Strategies' "voter contact subsidiary and grassroots team will be involved in a number of races in 2010."

Reed's FFC is essentially a retread of the Christian Coalition which, under Reed's leadership, was investigated by Congress, the Federal Election Commission, and ultimately (after Reed's departure) had its tax-exempt status denied over its engagement in electoral politicking. But Reed, who has managed to survive the Christian Coalition meltdown, his two-timing of evangelicals through his business association with Abramoff, and his 2006 loss in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor of Georgia, is sifting the remnants of the Christian Coalition infrastructure to build FFC.