Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Will Ralph Reed win redemption?

Still wondering whether Republicans will be hurt at the polls this year by the Jack Abramoff scandal, and its various corruption subplots? There has been scant evidence thus far, but we will see a fresh test tonight, in Georgia, where one-time religious right golden boy Ralph Reed is trying to win the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor.

Reed, who once helmed the Christian Coalition and was lionized at an early age for his political savvy, left the organization late in 1998 for the financially lucrative world of political consulting. He quickly hooked up with super-lobbyist/networker Abramoff, his conservative friend and comrade from the early '80s (telling Abramoff in an email, "I need to start humping in corporate accounts!"), and made a pile of dough. The problem is, the recent past has intruded on his maiden foray into elective politics - an important foray, because everyone around Reed knows that he sees the lieutenant governorship as the first stepping stone to very high office.

It will be instructive to see whether he prevails tonight, in his GOP primary race against state senator Casey Cagle. Last year, he looked like a cinch winner. But then his fundraising fell off, and now the polls show Cagle slightly ahead. What happened? Well, a Senate report was released in June showing that Reed took $5 million from Abramoff to wage a grassroots moral crusade against legalized gambling in the South; in reality, the money was put up by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (Abramoff clients), who already had Gulf Coast casinos and wanted to thwart any competitors from butting in. Nothing illegal here, just a shrewd (or hypocritical) meshing of God and commerce. In any case, Reed says now that he had no idea where the money came from. Also, Reed and Abramoff (now a convicted felon) are being sued by another tribe, in Texas, on charges of "corruption and deceit."

Will Georgians derail Reed from his carefully-charted political fast track? Tune in tomorrow.