Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Conservative Republican Ralph Reed, former leader of the Christian Coalition, loses race for Georgia Lt Govenor

Conservative Reed loses race for Georgia Lt Govenor
By Matthew Bigg

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Ralph Reed, a poster boy for the Christian right who helped promote the rise of Republican political power in the 1990s, conceded defeat in Georgia on Tuesday in a primary race for Lieutenant Governor.

Reed's role as former leader of the Christian Coalition, and his reputation as a clean-cut conservative with a talent for grass-roots organizing had made him an early favorite over Georgia state Sen. Casey Cagle.

But his campaign was damaged by accusations of corruption in a series of Cagle TV ads highlighting Reed's links to Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in January to charges of fraud, tax evasion and bribery.

"Tonight my candidacy for lieutenant governor comes to an end," Reed said in a speech cited by the WXIA-TV Atlanta station. Cagle later accepted the Republican nomination.

Merle Black, politics professor at Atlanta's Emory University, told Reuters defeat would effectively "end his (Reed's) career as an office seeker."

With 60 percent of the votes counted, Cagle had 56 percent, while Reed at 44 percent, according to the WSB-TV Web site at 10:45 p.m. EST (0245 GMT).

Cagle's attacks focused on a U.S. Senate Indian Affairs committee report on Abramoff last month that said Reed, in work as a lobbyist, rallied Christian conservatives to stop gambling initiatives. But it said that work was in part funded by competing gambling interests represented by Abramoff.

A recent Cagle ad said Reed took millions of dollars from Abramoff to help casinos. Reed and Abramoff are longtime friends and business partners. Reed has not been charged over the case and denies wrongdoing.

Reed led the Christian Coalition from 1989 to 1997, served as chairman of the Georgia Republican Party in 2002 and worked as southeast regional chairman for U.S. President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.