Christian Coalition 2.0, Or The Triumphant Return of Ralph Reed

Literally, just yesterday as I was doing my right-wing monitoring, I thought to myself "you know who's name I never see any more?  Ralph Reed."

And for good reason, given his deep ties to Jack Abramoff.  Actually, the last time he made any news was when he was forced to skip a fund-raiser with John McCain last year thanks to the fact that he has been permanently tainted by his association with Abramoff.

But, as Dan Gilgoff reports, Reed is now back with a new organization called The Faith and Freedom Coalition:

Ralph Reed, the Republican operative who built the Christian Coalition into a potent political force in the 1990s by mobilizing evangelicals and other religious conservatives and who did similar work to help George W. Bush win two presidential elections, is quietly launching a group aimed at using the Web to mobilize a new generation of values voters. In addition to targeting the GOP's traditional faith-based allies—white evangelicals and observant Catholics—the group, called the Faith and Freedom Coalition, will reach out to Democratic-leaning constituencies, including Hispanics, blacks, young people, and women.

"This is not your daddy's Christian Coalition," Reed said in an interview Monday. "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."

"There's a whole rising generation of young leaders in the faith community, and rather than nab the publicity I did at Christian Coalition, I want to cultivate and train that rising generation," Reed said. "One question is, who is our future Barack Obama, doing local organizing just like he was in the 1990s?"

The Faith and Freedom Coalition has been quietly active for a few weeks but has attracted no news media notice so far. Reed said that was intentional: "We're less focused on the pyrotechnics than on being a strong grass-roots presence all the way down to the precinct level, which has always been my emphasis."

The idea for the new group, which is still hashing out an organizational blueprint, was born just after Election Day 2008, when exit polls showed that Obama made gains among traditionally Republican religious constituencies, including evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and frequent churchgoers. "Since I left the Christian Coalition, we haven't had an engine designed to turn out this large part of the vote," Reed said. "After the election, people said that I ought to consider doing something about it."

Of course, the Christian Coalition was the engine that turned out "values voters," but it faltered under Reed's control. When he finally jumped ship to launch his own consulting and PR operation and "start humping in corporate accounts,” the organization all but collapsed.

Gilgoff reports that this new effort also features Gary Marx - who happens to be a long-time associate of Reed's and the current Executive Director of the Judicial Confirmation Network - and that, for now, the organization is operating out of his Century Strategies office in Atlanta:

Reed is serving as chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and says he has filed papers with the Internal Revenue Service to register it as a 501(c)(4), a tax-free designation that permits lobbying and certain political activities. Gary Marx, Reed's deputy at the 2004 Bush campaign and Mitt Romney's conservative outreach director in 2008, will help advise the group. Jack St. Martin, a former top Republican National Committee staffer, is running day-to-day operations.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition plans to launch state and local chapters, as the Christian Coalition did, but is exploring the idea of organizing as much via "virtual chapters" that would operate online with the help of social networking technology. "The Internet's first wave was E-mail, and the next wave was social networking, which Obama perfected," Reed said. "There's going to be a third wave, which we're still developing."

...

Headquartered in the offices of Reed's consulting firm, Century Strategies, near Atlanta, the group plans to open a Washington office but says it will keep its staff small. St. Martin is currently the only full-time employee. "We don't want the huge overhead of a centralized group," says St. Martin, who worked at the Christian Coalition in the 1990s. "We'll have a few generals, but at the end of the day, we're going to emphasize putting boots on the ground out in the field."

Everything about this effort is pure Ralph Reed. From the focus on grassroots mobilization to his use of military language, it sounds like Reed is breaking out his Christian Coalition era playbook and seeking to recapture his former glory, even going so far as to dust off his efforts to reach out to minority groups, which, as I explained in a report [PDF] I wrote about him several years back that chronicled his rise from the College Republicans through his Abramoff-related downfall, is exactly what he tried and failed to do during his last days with the Christian Coalition:

In 1996, in an attempt to reach out to religious African American voters and bring them into the right wing movement, Reed announced that the Coalition was going to raise one million dollars to help rebuild black churches in the South that had been destroyed in a series of fire bombings. What had initially been planned as a one-day fundraising event ended up taking seven months. Similarly, Reed announced in 1997 the creation of the Samaritan Project, “A bold plan to break the color line and bridge the gap that separates white evangelicals and Roman Catholics from their Latino and African American brothers and sisters.” Reed pledged that the Coalition would raise $10 million for inner city churches, but less than a year later the project was abandoned after raising less than $50,000.

The simple point needs to be made that Reed, the man once dubbed "the Right Hand of God," had been seening his star dim even before he left the Christian Coalition and that the influence and power he had accumulated over the years all but evaporated when his efforts to exploit his Religious Right allies for Jack Abramoff's business purposes were finally revealed, culminating in his failed campaign to secure the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia.

But, as we pointed out in our report: "Reed is still young and American politics is full of redemption stories. No doubt Reed is already writing his."

And with the announcement of this new effort, it looks like that is exactly what he is undertaking now.