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In Ga., Abramoff Scandal Threatens a Political Ascendancy

Ralph Reed's ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff have hurt what has been a promising political career for the former head of the Christian Coalition.
Ralph Reed's ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff have hurt what has been a promising political career for the former head of the Christian Coalition. (By Bill Haber -- Associated Press)

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Reed's records have been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors, and neither he nor his staff will discuss whether Reed has been interviewed or has been called as a witness to grand jury proceedings. No evidence has emerged that he is a target in the federal inquiry.

The controversy has confronted Reed with a fierce headwind here. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published 48 articles and editorials on the Reed-Abramoff connection. The paper's main circulation area includes the suburban and exurban areas surrounding Atlanta, which provide more than half the votes cast in statewide Republican primaries.

Although polling this many months before an election is not as reliable as surveys closer to November, a recent Zogby poll performed for the paper had troubling findings for Reed: When voters were asked to pick between "Republican Ralph Reed" and "a Democrat," the generic Democrat won 36 percent to 33 percent, although the state leans strongly Republican. When voters were asked to pick between "Republican Casey Cagle," a state senator running against Reed for the GOP nomination, and "a Democrat," Cagle won, 35 percent to 30 percent.

Similarly, Reed raised an impressive $1.4 million in the first six months of 2005, before local coverage of the Abramoff scandal had heated up; his total for the second half of 2005 dropped to $404,258, below Cagle's $667,692. Overall, Reed retains an advantage in cash on hand.

The problem vexing the Reed campaign is that even if the federal investigation clears him of wrongdoing, his status is likely to remain uncertain at least through the July 18 primary.

Without the prospect of a quick resolution of his role in the Abramoff controversy, Reed is in a political limbo -- hardly a selling point for Republicans eager to keep their four-year-old hold on state government.

Whit Ayres, one of the state's best-known Republican consultants and pollsters, said the best way to determine Reed's political future would be to "ask Jack Abramoff. Only [the former lobbyist] and some prosecutors know what he has to say about Reed." Pichon, the Dawson County Republican, said: "If Reed ends up winning the primary, we might be at the point where we blow our brains out over that issue."

Random interviews on Main Street in heavily Republican Alpharetta -- a rapidly growing town of 37,850 on the far northern suburbs of Atlanta -- suggested that even many people who follow politics casually are aware of the linkage between Reed and Abramoff.

"Ralph Reed? He's a politician," said David Loudenflager, a Republican who retired after working 32 years for the Arrow Shirt Company. "He was involved with Jack Abramoff and the Indians and all those."

Loudenflager does not like the Democratic Party -- "they give away everything" -- but he puts no stock in the Christian Coalition: "All these people running around telling you how good they are, and how right they are. You better be careful and hold on to your wallet."

Todd Guy, owner of Trader Golf, said succinctly in response to an inquiry: "Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition? My God! Abramoff."

After Reed first entered national politics as executive director of the Christian Coalition, he described to the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot his tactics in mobilizing Christian conservatives to sway elections: "I want to be invisible. I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night."

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