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Religious Right's Ralph Reed Field-Tests Plan for Beating Obama

Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition, "a 21st-century version of the Christian Coalition on steroids," is leading the effort.
 
 
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Photo Credit: A.M. Stan

 

This article has been updated. For more on the update, see editor's note at the end of the article.

A mere 10 days since Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Lieutenant Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch survived the recall election launched against them by state's liberal coalition, Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, is ebullient as he takes the stage at his organization's Washington, D.C., gala on the final night of FFC's national conference at the Renaissance Hotel.

Reed has good reason to be happy; his return to the religious-right spotlight is a turn of events that few would have bet on. Since he first burst on the political scene in the 1990s as the wunderkind executive director of Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, Reed's political trajectory took him so close to the sun that his wings nearly melted. When George W. Bush signed him as a strategist for the 2000 presidential campaign, Reed's career soared -- only to crash four years later with revelations of his involvement in the Jack Abramoff scandal. Along the way, he made a lot of money, and is reported to live with his wife and two of his four children (the other two are grown) in a house in Duluth, Ga., worth $2.2 million.

The boyish contours of his face now marked with the occasional line, Reed, at 51, still conveys a youthful vigor, fit and trim in a well-tailored dark suit, his full head of hair brushed neatly back to display a smooth forehead. Taking no small measure of credit for the triumph of Walker and Kleefisch, Reed boasts of the 600,000 voter contacts he says his organization made to get conservative Wisconsinites to the polls on June 5. Later that evening, Reed will present to Kleefisch, who is billed as Wisconsin's answer to Sarah Palin, FFC's Courage in Leadership Award. (Kleefisch will also accept the same award for Walker, who did not attend.)

If you like what happened in Wisconsin, Reed implies, you're going to love the 2012 presidential race, when FFC reaches out to 27.1 million conservative voters; he promises that FFC will contact each of them between seven to 12 times to either get them to the polls, or better yet, vote early in states that permit it. Consider it payback, if you will, for the outcome of the 2008 presidential election.

The day after the election Barack Obama won by a wide margin, Reed says, he woke up feeling "like I'd been hit by a truck." Speaking of the Obama campaign, Reed explains: "We were embarrassed. They ran circles around us."

"I founded Faith and Freedom Coalition because I vowed that as long as I was alive, we were never going to get out-hustled on the ground again," he told a group of activists earlier in the day.

Reed has described FFC, launched in 2009, as "a 21st century version of the Christian Coalition on steroids." Reed's new organization seeks to meld the religious right with the Tea Party movement through the use of voter turnout strategies. But however successful he was in bringing right-wing evangelical voters to the polls during his tenure at the Christian Coalition, his managerial skills and business ethics appeared to be less than stellar.

When Reed left the Christian Coalition in 1997, the organization was in tatters, under investigation by the FEC for the kind of "electioneering" prohibited for tax-exempt non-profits by the I.R.S., and internally riven due to allegations made by chief financial officer Judy Liebert that a firm whose principals were friends of Reed's had over-billed the coalition to the tune of $1 million -- and been paid.