Election 2014  
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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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Changing the Model

Reed isn't in the business of persuasion; he doesn't waste his time on voters who aren't already on his team. His deal is to make sure those potential voters are first registered and then activated -- not unlike what the labor unions do in their get-out-the-vote campaigns (though likely with fewer billionaires to shell out for their efforts). This is where the winning margin in most elections actually resides, Reed explained at a strategy session during his conference. In fact, he suggests, the success of FFC's voter turnout operation accounted for why the polls that predicted a tight race between Walker and Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett in the Wisconsin recall election were so wrong.

Pollsters, he explained, work from a model of the electorate that is based on the previous election: X percentages of various demographic groups. Increase the percentage of any one of those demographic groups -- say Christian conservatives -- and the model on which the poll is based is no longer valid.

"So, when you go out in your county, and you start a Faith and Freedom chapter or you work with the local party or with a local candidate or do whatever it is you're doing, and you build an organization that knocks on every door, and calls every voter and registers lots of new people to vote, guess what?" he asked. "The turnout model's wrong."

That's what happened in the Virginia gubernatorial race, Reed said, the year after Obama won the state by 5 points in the presidential election. In the 2008 race, a mere 33 percent of the Virginia electorate, Reed claimed, was conservative. But in the gubernatorial race, the Faith and Freedom Coalition turned out a religious-right base for Bob McDonnell, now considered to be a contender for the Republican vice-presidential nomination.

A talented and energetic presenter, Reed, in his strategy session titled "The Keys to Victory in 2012," peppered his audience with numbers in service of his theory, punctuated with questions he answered himself. Periodically, he asked his audience: "You with me?"

In Virginia, Reed said, "...we ran the Faith and Freedom program, and we contacted every social conservative and fiscal conservative voter an average of seven times -- we mailed 'em, we phoned 'em, we knocked on their door, we e-mailed them," Reed said. "What percentage of the electorate was conservative in 2009? Forty-one percent, according to exit polls. So the electorate went from 33 percent conservative to 41 percent conservative."

McDonnell's pollster, Glen Bolger, had projected a 10-point lead for his candidate, according to Reed, but McDonnell actually won by 18. Where did those other eight points come from? Subtract 33 from 41 and you'll find your answer, Reed said.

This year, consequently, Virginia is hardly a state Obama can take for granted. There, Reed said, FFC is building a file of 350,000 conservative households that will account for some 600,000 voters. In Florida, where Reed said Obama's 2008 margin of victory was 200,000 votes, Reed has set his sights on some 225,000 social conservatives who are not currently registered to vote, but who will be, if he has anything to say about it.

In the Wisconsin recall, Reed continued, FFC's 600,000 voter contacts ranged in form from mobile media, e-mail and snail-mail to old-fashioned door-knocking and the method that became the hallmark of the Christian Coalition under Reed's leadership during its heyday: the church-distributed voter guide. FFC doled out 100,000 of them, he said.

"So there were voters in Wisconsin who were getting e-mail from us, they were getting a text message from us, when they went to church on Sunday, our voter guide was in their church bulletin, and on Monday they got a knock on their door," Reed said. "Okay?"