Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Hutchinson And Purdue Share A Burden
By Steve Barnes
ATLANTA -- Here's what mainstream Republicans in Arkansas and Georgia have in common: a gnawing fear that their voters will select nominees for lieutenant governor in their respective states who not only will fall short in November but sandbag the party's candidates for governor. In Arkansas the source of the angst is state Sen. Jim Holt of Springdale. In Georgia it's Ralph Reed. Both men are darlings of the Christian right -- or, in the case of Reed, were.Holt was an unknown two years ago but his opposition to gay marriage, his sole issue, gave him an unexpectedly strong showing in a failed race against U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln. Holt's pinched, far-right conservatism has kept him at odds with Gov. Huckabee, his colleagues view him with amusement at best and not a seasoned Republican operative in Arkansas believes he can win the general election.Not that long ago Reed looked golden. A Pat Robertson acolyte, Reed was the first executive director of the Christian Coalition, and he parlayed his Rolodex into a political and public relations consultancy that has made him a millionaire. Reed's net worth -- about $4 million -- is roughly the amount routed to his firm over the past several years by Jack Abramoff, the now infamous Washington lobbyist, who sought his friend Reed's help in rallying fundamentalist opposition to gambling proposals in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Okay -- except Abramoff's clients were other gambling interests seeking to protect their turf. Reed, who has called gambling "a cancer on America," says he didn't know. His critics ask how he could not have known. Abramoff and Reed have been close associates for a quarter-century. Abramoff's wife is a former Reed employee. More to the point, numerous e-mails involving the gambling business have been disclosed, including a choice one in which Abramoff, referring to an Indian tribe with casino operations, tells Reed: "I wish those moronic Tiguas were smarter in their political contributions. I'd love to get our mitts on that moolah."Enough said, except more is being said -- as in, "Guilty, Your Honor." It's been said by Abramoff and by three former congressional aides, two of them once employees of Rep. Tom DeLay, another Reed ally. A lot of golf is involved. In Scotland. Reached by private jet. Abramoff paid. Reed played.
"You can't spell 'Greed' without' Reed,'" proclaim posters critical of him, although they are not (it is insisted) the work of Reed's opponent, state Sen. Casey Cagle, who represents an Atlanta suburb. A fiscal and cultural conservative, Cagle is essentially Reed without the scandal baggage. Despite some high-profile defections among religious conservatives, "Ralph still has the Christian Coalition on his side," says Jim Galloway, a political ace for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "but the Republican establishment has given up on him and they're lining up behind Cagle."No wonder. Reed's dilemma may delight Georgia Democrats and discomfit his fellow Republicans, but both parties are more concerned for how it could affect a rather more important race. The talk of the Peach State's political class the other day was a poll which showed that Gov. Sonny Purdue, at best an even bet for re-election, losing a dozen percentage points if he shares space with Reed on November's ballot. The prospect sent a chill down GOP spines: by only a single point did Purdue upset incumbent Roy Barnes four years ago to become Georgia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, and he is now fewer than five points ahead of his likely Democratic opponent.Rather than go away, as Purdue & Co. had hoped, Reed will host a party next week, and the guest of honor is none other than Rudi Giuliani, "America's Mayor," the hero of 9/11. What strange seating arrangements, not to mention compromises, can politics demand: a southern Red State, anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-Brady Law avatar of "traditional values" seeking assistance from a twice-divorced Blue State advocate of abortion rights, gay rights and gun control.Reed's Arkansas soulmates, the pragmatic among them, understand. Four years ago at Fort Smith Giuliani tried unsuccessfully to rescue Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson, whose conservatism mirrored Reed's but whose personal life, like Reed's, suggested hypocrisy. Purdue's Arkansas soulmates, the pragmatic among them, understand that electing Hutchinson's brother, Asa, is a sort of rescue mission, as defined by the most reliable public and private polls, which show him trailing the Democratic gubernatorial nominee although not by much.
In Georgia, Purdue must maintain a lead; in Arkansas, Hutchinson mustovercome one. The men on the ballot line beneath them are not making their work easier.