Jim Galloway of the AJC
(and co-author of the Political Insider) reports the following (excerpts) from Waycross, 36 miles from Douglas, God's country, the Other Georgia, USA:Ralph Reed meets with supporters
In the first week of his new career as a political candidate, Ralph Reed found himself at a small country club on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.
The topics of discussion for the prospective lieutenant governor included education funding, roads, classroom sizes, immigration and taxes, taxes, taxes.
None of the attendees mentioned abortion. They didn't have to. This was the former head of the Christian Coalition before them.
No one mentioned the $4 million Reed's company allegedly received for helping to close an Indian casino . No one cared.
A New York Times photographer snapped pictures.
"My opponents are going to talk about me. I'm going to talk about Georgia," Reed said more than once. His was the only allusion to what could be the biggest roadblock to the decision by Reed — a lightning rod on the national stage — to leave the backroom of politics and seek elective office.
After the meeting in Waycross, Reed said the scandal would have no impact on his campaign — that he didn't know the origins of the money he was paid, knew nothing of Abramoff's agenda and was guilty of nothing more than opposing the expansion of casino gambling.
"I knew it was a broad coalition. You never know every single coalition partner," Reed said. "How was I supposed to know, if his own law firm didn't know? He deceived his law firm, he deceived his clients and he deceived me.
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, who plans to hold hearings on the topic in September.
There was the implication among Reed supporters that only Democrats and the media were interested in the Washington affair.
But some Republicans disagree — particularly those supporting state Sen. Casey Cagle, the only other Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.
Joel McElhannon, a consultant for the Cagle campaign, predicted the fall congressional hearings would mark a turning point in what's certain to be the most expensive and longest campaign for lieutenant governor in Georgia history.
The largest part of the evening conversation dwelt on finding more money for rural school systems. Van Herrin, a member of the Brantley County Board of Education, filled Reed in on a lawsuit against the state demanding equal funding for all school systems in Georgia.
[To digress, my school system, the Coffee County School District, is the largest school system among the plaintiff school districts. The case was being heard by Judge Rowland Barnes, and now a new judge will have to take over.]
While Cobb County in suburban Atlanta is contemplating the expenditure of $100 million to give laptops to middle and high school students, Brantley County is holding bake sales to buy photocopy paper, he said.Reed spoke of shifting away from income and property taxes for education and other state funding
Kay Godwin, a local dental hygienist and Republican activist who organized the event, helped deliver South Georgia to Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2002, has known Reed since his Christian Coalition days. "He's the one who trained us in grass roots," she said.
In a 3-24-05 post
, we learned that the Dean thinks that Reed may be running for lieutenant governor to avoid the tough questions that are more likely to be asked of a gubernatorial candidate and the more thorough vetting of a gubernatorial candidate's background than that of someone seeking a lesser office.
That made a lot of sense when I read it, and it still is convincing.
But reading about Ralph Reed's first week of planned campaignimg made a Ford light bulb flash in my head.
When dealing with the base of the Republican Party -- which of course includes religious conservatives such as the Christian Coalition and born-again or evangelical Christians -- they could care less about the $4.2 casino episode. Jim Galloway just reported as much.
And the press, well, the press is going to inquire about this and anything else with Ralph Reed's fingerprints on it, regardless of what office the guy seeks, high or low.
Thus it came to me that the reason Reed is beginning so early for lieutenant governor -- on announcement day he called it a marathon
-- is that he wants to build on his base over the next two years.
And why has he been saying that he is going to be on -- he could have said lead -- the Perdue cheerleading team?
The answer, according to the Ford light bulb realization, is that if -- and maybe when -- Perdue continues to do as poorly as he has been, bang, guess who gets drafted to run against Perdue to save the GOP from a Democratic challenger and their loss of power in Atlanta.
Sound crazy? It is possible, not likely, not unlikely, but possible I assure you.
And to think that I was thinking that it would be Rep. Jack Kingston that would emerge as the Republican who stepped forward to keep the governor's mansion within the GOP's grasp come '06.
But I do admit I was a little slow in coming to realize all of this, and it took Jim Galloway's reporting of how Reed is being received in South Georgia to make the bulb go off in my head.
Wow folks, this is heavy. And the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this is exactly the thinking of one intimately involved in and who helped craft both the Contract with America, which the GOP rode to a congressional majority in 1994, and the Declaration for a New Georgia, which was the Republican's campaign document in 2002, when Gov. Sonny Perdue was elected.
Which, if it is true or possible, goes to show Gov. Perdue that he indeed better be paying very careful attention to the political landscape and a certain adage that might apply in his and Reed's situation -- keep your friends close but your enemies closer.
P.S. After preparing this post, I read today's Political Insider
. It has a couple of more comments on Reed and his trip to South Georgia, noting:
Over the din of a two-piece band [in Waycross], Reed grinned from ear-to-ear. "What Sonny got in 2002, I got tonight," he said.
In this new Republican world, south Georgia is a bastion of social conservatives — more so than Georgia's suburbs. This is where Reed should run strongest. "I don't think people understand the extent that I've worked the state over the last six years," Reed would say the next day. That work includes the 2002 campaign, which saw victories for both Sonny Perdue and Saxby Chambliss, and the 2004 presidential campaign, which required the recruitment of hundreds of south Georgians to send into Florida — which Republicans placed in Reed's hands.
The '06 race for lieutenant governor will be something different. The two top candidates on a party's ticket have rarely coordinated before
. Usually they don't even like each other
. But Reed fully intends to create a Perdue-Reed ticket for next year. And coordination can be restricting.
For instance, Reed favors a shifting away from taxes on income and property to fund the state's current $17 billion annual budget. "Those two taxes are taxes on jobs and home ownership," he said.
But it will be hard for him to say too much more — how fast to make the shift, what kind of sales taxes might replace them — without making promises that Perdue might not want to keep in a second term.
Truly this could be -- how can it help but be -- a campaign where the tail (Reed) wags the dog (Perdue).
Am I ready to abandon my thoughts set forth above about Reed jumping to the top slot "for the best interest of the state GOP"? You are joking aren't you.