Friday, July 14, 2006
From star foot soldier for the religious right to GOP lobbyist with questionable ties to Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed is finally losing his Teflon luster
The morning begins with a prayer in Jason’s Deli, a strip-mall joint in Atlanta, and we all bow our heads and say amen. We—me, the Atlanta reporter, and all the Buck Springs Republicans—stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and the ﬁne a cappella rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and then we—me and the other reporter—sit down in our booth and scribble notes throughout the short, civil debate between the two candidates who are seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Georgia. One of the candidates is state senator Casey Cagle, who was a businessman before he was first elected twelve years ago. The other is Ralph Reed.
Remember Ralph Reed? Executive director of the Christian Coalition. Hardball Republican operative. Cherubic embodiment of the religious right. He may not have created the movement, but he was the one who mainstreamed it. After a decade of TV-preacher scandals and jowly old scolds wagging moralizing ﬁngers, Reed was slick and sensible. He was young and smart and erudite, and he had that face, that unlined diamond under a swoop of Big Boy hair that had writers struggling for something, anything, other than choirboy or altar boy or angelic to describe it. Time magazine put that face on its cover in 1995 next to the words THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD. Just 33 years old, and Reed was an icon.
But that was eleven years ago, a lifetime in politics.
No one then would have guessed that Ralph Reed would end up chasing a second-tier office in a down-ballot race in an off year in Georgia. Or that he might lose.
The debate ends. The BuckSprings Republicans are pushing back from their tables, and Reed is right there in the aisle next to our booth, shaking hands and clapping shoulders. He’s slight, maybe ﬁve eight in the cowboy boots he’s taken to wearing. The hair has calmed down since the ’90s, but he still has that face. Reed’s 44 now, but in his blue blazer and open collar, he could pass for a graduate student. He’s smiling and friendly, and we start to stand up so we can say hello and begin with our questions.
At which point, a guy appears at the edge of our table. His name is Art Morris, and he’s Reed’s ﬁnance chairman. Chatty fellow. Loves Reed. Says lots of nice and not particularly interesting things about him. But mainly, he’s got us pinned in our booth, and he keeps us there until Reed has worked his way up the aisle to the front of the room and into a thick, insulating knot of Republicans.
Art’s a blocker. Maybe it’s an eager coincidence—his timing, his body placement—but it works out well. Because Reed doesn’t talk to reporters anymore. His campaign manager, a boyish redhead in a turquoise golf shirt named Jared, has already made that clear. “We don’t do anything with out-of-state press,” he said earlier, striding across the parking lot with a can of Tab in his hand.
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