Republican Candidate Linked to Abramoff Loses in Ga. Primary

By Chris Cillizza
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Former Georgia Republican Party chairman Ralph Reed lost his bid for the party's nomination for lieutenant governor last night, the first electoral defeat this year that can be traced directly to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

Meanwhile, Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), facing her first election since a scuffle with a Capitol Police officer this spring, will face a runoff with her main challenger, Hank Johnson, a former county commissioner with roots in the heart of her core constituency.

Reed conceded defeat to Casey Cagle, a little-known state senator, less than three hours after the polls closed. With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Cagle led by 56 percent to 44 percent.

An upbeat Reed told a few dozen cheering supporters in Atlanta that his conservative message will live on.

"Stay in the fight. Don't retreat. And our values will win in November," he said.

The defeat represents an astounding fall for Reed, 45, who presided over the Christian Coalition for most of the 1990s and was regarded as one of the GOP's rising stars. In 2001, Georgia Republicans elected him state party chairman.

But his first run for elective office was damaged by revelations that Reed had mobilized Christian voters against Indian casinos -- for fees totaling more than $4 million -- to benefit gambling interests that had employed Abramoff as a lobbyist.

Once that was reported, Reed's fundraising dried up. Polls began showing Cagle climbing from obscurity to competitiveness.

Cagle capitalized on Reed's struggles, running television commercials that accused him of "selling out our values." In November, Cagle will face Jim Martin or Greg K. Hecht; the two Democrats are headed to an Aug. 8 runoff.

So is McKinney. With 98 percent of precincts reporting, she was leading Johnson in the 4th Congressional District primary by 47 percent to 44.5 percent of votes counted. Georgia law requires a candidate to reach 50 percent to avoid a runoff.

McKinney lost her seat in 2002 after implying the Bush administration knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they happened. She was returned to Washington in 2004.

Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor (D) won their parties' gubernatorial nominations.

Perdue has been seen as a top target of Democrats. But his campaign war chest -- more than $9 million, at last count -- and a polling bump he received after Hurricane Katrina have strengthened his chances.

In Alabama, George Wallace Jr. lost to lawyer Luther Strange in the Republican runoff for lieutenant governor. Wallace, son of the former Alabama governor and presidential candidate, previously lost bids for Congress and lieutenant governor.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company