Holy Surprise Guest Appearance!

Sam Olens says he's tired of hearing people openly speculate about his aspirations for higher office as if he weren't even in the room.

If that's true, then what on earth was the popular Cobb County Commission chairman doing when he got up on a stage at the Cobb Galleria Centre on June 17 to introduce Ralph Reed, Zell Miller and Sean Hannity as "three great Americans"?

The event was a campaign fundraiser for the increasingly embattled Reed, the former Christian Coalition and K Street lobbyist now running for lieutenant governor. Although the rally was held on unchallenged GOP turf - the same venue where former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich celebrated several victories - and had been widely promoted, there was a notable paucity of elected officials willing to show up and identify themselves as Reed supporters.

This reluctance is understandable at a time when Reed is squirming under congressional scrutiny for his connections to a nasty lobbying scandal involving Texas casinos, free golfing trips for congressmen, and insults against Native Americans.

Yet there was Olens, on stage with Reed, spurring ever more heated speculation that the moderate Republican commissioner must be trying to court far-right voters for a future bid for higher office. It's a given these days that in Georgia, GOP primaries for statewide or congressional posts can't be won without hard-line conservative support.

And at the Reed fundraiser, there were plenty of hard-line conservatives wedged into the small ballroom space. Most were there to cheer right-wing radio star Hannity and renegade Democratic ex-senator Miller.

A blonde in her mid-30s wore a tight tank top emblazoned with "I Rumsfeld." Another, somewhat older woman interrupted Hannity during his liberal-bashing speech in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to endorse a conspiracy theory linking Howard Dean to turban-wearing terrorists.

Yet Olens dismisses efforts to see any larger political strategy behind his brief appearance at Friday's event. Although he didn't support Reed's earlier run as state Republican party head, Olens says he has been won over by the conservative Christian's ability to bring people together to get things done.

"Ralph has always been a straight shooter with me," Olens says, "and I trust he can make some needed changes in the state."

Perhaps, but his endorsement of Reed for gov lite certainly confirms the old dictum that politics does, indeed, make strange bedfellows.??

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