Although Ralph Reed will soon enter his fifth decade, he still maintains a youthful, almost boyish appearance. Yet his goal of motivating and mobilizing Christian voters is still as strong as when he led the Christian Coalition and helped Newt Gingrich wrestle control of Congress in 1994.
This weekend throngs of conservative Christian voters are attending the Faith & Freedom conference in Washington, D.C. – and a half step behind them are a number of aspiring candidates eager to become the next President of the United States. In fact, more GOP candidates are attending this conference than will be at the upcoming South Carolina and New Hampshire forums.
If any of the candidates are seeking to flex their Christian credentials, they are certainly in their element, and attendees are looking to see how each candidate plays to Reed.
Reed has always been involved in grassroots politics and began his meteoric rise to prominence at the University of Georgia and as executive director of the College Republican National Committee. After graduating in 1985, he went on to earn a doctorate from Emory University in 1989, the same year he was selected to lead the Christian Coalition, a group comprised of evangelical voters and founded by noted evangelist Pat Robertson. Six years later, Reed made the cover of Time magazine, which referred to him as “The Right Hand of God.”
With a trunk full of political success, Reed left the Christian Coalition just after reaching the pinnacle of success in 1997 and moved to Georgia to open his own consulting firm, Century Strategies. Candidates looking to appeal to the “Christian right” eagerly sought out Reed’s counsel and advice, and Reed worked as a “senior advisor” to George W. Bush in both the 2000 and 2004 election cycles. He also served as chairman of the Georgia Republican Party and attempted to parlay his statewide connections by running for lieutenant governor of Georgia in 2006.
In what some thought to be his entry into elected office, Reed suffered a heartbreaking loss because of accusations of his close relationship to Jack Abramoff, a high-powered Washington lobbyist who was later convicted of fraud and sentenced to federal prison.
The loss was devastating for Reed and he seemed to withdraw from the spotlight for a few years. However, he continued to grow his consulting business while finding time to write two novels, Dark Horse (2008 ) and The Confirmation (2010).
While time may have passed by, Reed’s passion for the pro-family movement has not diminished. After taking a back seat, but closely keeping tabs on the pulse of Christian voters, Reed emerged again to form the Faith and Freedom Coalition, viewed by many as a key element to a Republican winning the White House in 2012 and making President Obama the first Democratic, one-term president since Jimmy Carter.
In a 2009 interview with LifeSiteNews.com, Reed described the Faith and Freedom Coalition as “a grassroots coalition of people of faith, small businessmen and women, and like-minded citizens dedicated to promoting sound public policy at every level of government.”
So what is the difference between the Christian Coalition and the Faith and Freedom Coalition? Reed’s statement to U.S. News and World Report summed it up in no uncertain terms.
“This is not your daddy’s Christian Coalition,” said Reed. “It’s got to be more brown, more black, more female, and younger. It’s critical that we open the door wide and let them know if they share our values and believe in the principles of faith and marriage and family, they’re welcome.”
One thing is for certain: conservative candidates for national office still make time for Reed and his strategies of mobilizing voters in the southern and midwestern states, strongholds of evangelical voters.
Phil DaCosta, Georgia resident who traveled to Washington for this weekend’s conference summed up the sentiment of many voters attracted to Reed and his coalitions, telling The Huffington Post, “I vote on Jesus first.”
Reed and like-minded supporters such as DaCosta will be watching – and listening closely to what the candidates are saying and doing in the months ahead.