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Ralph Reed plots his comeback

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Ralph Reed, once left for dead politically, is trying to stage a comeback.

Reed, the 48-year-old former executive director of the Christian coalition, saw his meteoric rise take an even harder fall in 2006 after the extent of his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff were revealed. He saw sizable, early leads in the polls disintegrate in his bid for Georgia lieutenant governor, and he wound up losing in the GOP primary.

But in a changed environment, the first one favoring Republicans since 2006, Reed is plotting a bid for Congress. The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody reports Reed will announce tomorrow morning whether or not he will run for retiring Georgia Congressman John Linder's seat. (Linder announced his retirement on Feb. 27. The seventh congressional district is a solidly Republican one. McCain won it with 60% of the vote; Bush did so with 70%.)

"The environment is so good for Republicans right now, any conservative who ever considered running for anything, this is the year to do it," one Republican strategist told First Read. Of Reed's ties to Abramoff, the strategist said, "It doesn't worry me too much. If he can get himself elected, then voters will have given him a clean bill of health, and he'll no doubt hold himself to a high standard in Congress. This strikes me as the sort of inside-the-beltway hand-wringing that's largely irrelevant in a country with unemployment hovering around 10 percent."

Another GOP strategist, though, disagreed.

"It's not inside-the-beltway handwringing when it's up on 30-second TV ads in his district," the strategist said, adding, "He's going to say that he's going to challenge the status quo, and they're going to point back to him operating in a system with a convicted criminal and developing these deals. It's going to be impossible to make the argument that he's going to operate outside that system, the broken stystm that's in Washington, D.C. That's a powerful argument this cycle."

Additionally, the strategist said of Reed: "He quickly rises to the ranks of Public Enemy 1 through 10 for the Democrats. It's low-hanging fruit." And he said a Reed candidacy could be used in general elections across Georgia. "Do you stand with Ralph Reed? Do you support his candidacy?" would be the question for an opponent to ask. Now, it might not make a difference among Republicans, the strategist said, but it could be a problem in a general election and for a national GOP message.

"This is a change election," the strategist continued. "People are disgusted with Washington, and he's not able to make that argument with a level of purity that another candidate could -- and that makes his candidacy more difficult."

Here are two accounts of Reed's fall from the Washington Post and Time from 2006.

The Washington Post:

"Jack Abramoff, whose outsize Washington lobbying scandal has reached down to Georgia. Abramoff and Reed -- the former executive director of the Christian Coalition -- have been friends for 25 years, and until recently it had been a mutually profitable association. Now it is proving highly inconvenient for Reed, and threatens to stall a career that has been emblematic of the modern GOP. ... the first major dent in Reed's carefully cultivated image came with the disclosure in the summer of 2004 that his public relations and lobbying companies had received at least $4.2 million from Abramoff to mobilize Christian voters to fight Indian casinos competing with Abramoff's casino clients.

Similarly damaging has been a torrent of e-mails revealed during the investigation that shows a side of Reed that some former supporters say cannot be reconciled with his professed Christian values.

"After reading the e-mail, it became pretty obvious he was putting money before God," said Phil Dacosta, a Georgia Christian Coalition member who had initially backed Reed. "We are righteously casting him out."

Among those e-mails was one from Reed to Abramoff in late 1998: "I need to start humping in corporate accounts! . . . I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts." Within months, Abramoff hired him to lobby on behalf of the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, who were seeking to prevent competitors from setting up facilities in nearby Alabama.

In 1999, Reed e-mailed Abramoff after submitting a bill for $120,000 and warning that he would need as much as $300,000 more: "We are opening the bomb bays and holding nothing back."

Time (in an article penned by current Vice President Biden Communications Director Jay Carney):

In considering the collapse of Ralph Reed's political dreams, it's tempting to conjure up biblical parables about Jesus instructing his followers in humility by suggesting they go "sit in the lowest place"--or of pride going before a fall. ...

Reed, just 45 but with crow's-feet carved gently into his temples, offering a meager group of supporters a curt concession speech in a hotel ballroom in Buckhead last week. He had lost the primary to a little-known state senator named Casey Cagle in a 12-point landslide, Reed's once invincible lead in the polls and fund raising eroded by a year of steady revelations about his ties to the convicted former G.O.P. superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. In the political vernacular that Reed loves to employ, he was waxed.