From a Conservative, a Lack Of Compassion for Ralph Reed

By Thomas B. Edsall and Dan Balz
Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ralph Reed, candidate for Georgia lieutenant governor and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, has a standard line when opponents link him to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. "The Democrats, radical left, and dominant media have made numerous unfair personal attacks against Ralph," his Web site declares.

Lately, however, it's becoming harder for Reed to dismiss his critics as ideologically motivated. One of the toughest is Marvin Olasky, a close associate of President Bush who helped developed the administration's faith-based initiative and the concept of "compassionate conservatism."

Olasky, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, is editor in chief of World magazine, the mission of which "is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Since Nov. 19, World has run 10 articles and essays describing the $4 million in gambling money Abramoff paid to Reed to lobby against casinos competing with Abramoff's clients. The articles have highlighted incriminating e-mails and other disclosures that have raised doubts about Reed's explanations of his activities.

Reed, Olasky wrote March 4, "has damaged Christian political work by confirming for some the stereotype that evangelicals are easily manipulated and that evangelical leaders use moral issues to line their own pockets."

On Feb. 6, Reed wrote Olasky to say he was " very disappointed that WORLD would repeat false and politically-motivated attacks by liberal groups in Texas."

In language similar to his campaign stump responses, Reed said: "Had I known then what I know now, I would not have undertaken the work. On reflection, I should have declined the work and I regret any difficulty it has caused the pro-family community, for which I have accepted full responsibility. . . . What I do not appreciate and what I am confident your readers will reject is an unfair attempt by the media to engage in guilt by association."

Some polling data have been published in Georgia indicating that the Abramoff scandal has hurt Reed's first bid for elective office. Most recently, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution cited a survey suggesting that if Reed wins the Republican nomination, his presence could weaken support for the reelection of Gov. Sonny Perdue (R).

When 500 Republicans were asked whether the presence of Reed on a ticket with Perdue would increase or decrease their likelihood of voting for the Republican governor, 18 percent said it would improve the chances, while 26 percent said it would diminish the prospect of voting for Perdue, a net eight-point negative, the newspaper reported.

MoveOn to Stoke House Races

One of the biggest obstacles facing Democrats in their quest to capture control of the House in November is the relatively limited number of competitive seats., the liberal grass-roots activist organization, hopes to help make the playing field bigger.

Beginning in April, MoveOn will begin bombarding five congressional districts with advertising campaigns aimed at turning second-tier targets into competitive contests, all with the goal of generating the kind of anti-incumbent sentiment that will topple the Republican majority.

"If we can put enough districts in play that [analysts] say the House is up for grabs, that will open the floodgate in terms of energy from our members and in terms of money from donors who otherwise might be reticent to give to many different races," said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn's political action committee. "The earlier that we can flip that switch where someone says that, the better off we believe we are in terms of the amount of energy that people are going to put into the election."

Pariser won't say which five districts will draw the initial advertising, only that the commercials will attempt to connect a local House member's votes to sentiment that lobbyists and corporate interests have too much sway with the current Congress. Nor will Pariser say whether MoveOn will seek to go into additional districts if the first ads prove successful.

MoveOn's PAC has become one of the largest collectors of so-called hard-dollar contributions in the country. In the 2004 cycle, the group raised about $30 million, putting it behind Emily's List but ahead of any number of other well-known interest groups on the left and right. Last year, the organization raised $10 million, and this year has set a goal of $15 million to $20 million. Some of that will be used for ads, some for voter mobilization, some for direct contributions.

The ads will run at what Pariser called "near saturation" level, with interruptions, for a period of about three months. "Realistically, we're not going to single-handedly create a change election," Pariser said. "I think we can play a role in tipping a number of close races and helping to make sure that as we move closer to the election that the right issues are on voters' minds."

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