The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Ralph Reed
Last week's Faith and Freedom Conference appeared to signal Ralph Reed's return to national politics. The former head of the Christian Coalition has been out of the spotlight for years. His hiatus included founding a successful consulting firm and advising the Bush election campaigns. Five years ago, he failed to win the Republican primary for Georgia Lieutenant Governor after his involvement with lobbyist Jack Abramoff became public. But his new organization, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, is likely to bring Reed back to national politics.
Last weekend, the coalition held its second Faith and Freedom Conference, which featured a parade of the who's who of conservative politics, not the least of which were almost all of the candidates for President in the Republican field: Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain. Even libertarian-leaning Ron Paul and no-longer-contender Donald Trump made appearances. (Newt Gingrich sent a video message.)
The coalition is drawing attention because it has the potential of providing the infrastructure for a grassroots conservative movement that now includes tea party activists and social conservatives. Reed told The New York Times that the coalition's "market" is tea party supporters who also hold to conservative social values.
"I guess the best way I would describe it is sort of a 21st century version of the Christian Coalition on steroids, married with Moveon.org with a sprinkling of the NRA," Reed said in an interview with CBN's David Brody.
This new "Christian Coalition on steroids" was little more than a website two years ago, when Reed rolled out the organization. Last September, its conference had only a few hundred attendees (though it was sandwiched between Glenn Beck's event on the national mall and the annual Values Voter Summit). In the 2010 election, however, the coalition demonstrated that it could provide key support to conservatives.
In Virginia, Bob McDonnell, an unapologetic socially conservative Christian and an alumnus of Regent University, ran and won the governor's race. The coalition's state organization supported his campaign with more than 700,000 phone calls featuring Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee endorsing McDonnell. The coalition also sent 650,000 pieces of mail in support of the eventual winner. It also aired radio ads and mobilized voters in key congressional races.
With a presidential primary season beginning, the coalition, which will be able to flex its new muscle in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida, is being seen as a new leader in the social conservative movement.
The coalition's Iowa organization held the first candidate event for the state in March. Reed hosted the gathering that included GOP hopefuls Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and Buddy Roemer. The candidates spoke to around 2,000 Iowans in Point of Grace Church in Waukee, a suburb of Des Moines.
Its conference last week is reported to have 1,000 attendees, each of whom paid $110 to listen to a parade of speakers that included congressional leaders, GOP operatives, and leaders of social conservatism past and present. For those unable to make the conference in person, C-SPAN broadcasted the event with short, to-the-point speeches linked together with a soundtrack including everything from Coldplay to CCM.
For Reed, the line-up of candidates eager to meet the new coalition shows the strength of his influence in conservative grassroots politics. Perhaps Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said it best when he began his conference speech with a nod to Reed.
"Ralph asked me to come, and I'm always delighted to do whatever Ralph asks me to do," Land said.
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