Stealth games

McKinney and Reed fly under the radar in campaigns

Georgia is home to one of the oddest political couples in the nation. Ralph Reed, GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, and Cynthia McKinney, fiery Democratic incumbent of the 4th congressional district, are arguably the most opposite candidates in the state’s primaries.

But Reed and McKinney have one thing in common: stealth.

Reed, who’s downplaying his ties to convicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, is the former head of the Christian Coalition. McKinney was recently in the news for a dust-up with a Capitol cop. And both are running campaigns that shun the media and focus on their loyal followers.

“[Reed and McKinney] have the exact same campaigns because they’re both polarizing figures,” says Beth Schapiro, founder of Schapiro Research Group, a public opinion research group.

Reed has avoided the media at all costs — even declining interviews with the nation’s most conservative publications, such as World Magazine.

Recently, his campaign volunteers have turned the press away from events, explaining the meetings are only open to the public. And he only alerts the public of the events after they’ve occurred.

In a Feb. 16 cartoon, CL barbed Reed’s style by dishing up some of his more curious quotes: “I want to be invisible. I do guerilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag.”

“Reed has a very shrewd strategy,” says David Johnson, CEO for Strategic Vision, a public affairs and polling agency. “And he has diehard support.”

In a May Strategic Vision poll, Reed led his primary opponent, state Sen. Casey Cagle, R-Gainesville, by 6 percent. But the public’s perception of Reed — 40 percent of Republicans hold favorable opinions of him, 45 percent don’t — could become decisive. Only 19 percent holds unfavorable opinions of Cagle.

Mix that with the fact that 22 percent of GOP voters haven’t decided whom to vote for, and the result is that Reed could be in trouble. “Right now, Cagle is basically getting the anti-Reed vote,” Johnson says. “For Cagle to be successful, he needs to define himself before Reed defines him.”

Reed’s campaign tactics resemble McKinney’s, who was able to win back her U.S. House seat in 2004. Schapiro says avoiding the media has proven an effective tactic for the congresswoman.

“You either like her or you don’t,” Schapiro says. “There aren’t that many undecided voters in McKinney’s case, and the media serves as a reminder for the people who don’t like her.”

The Reed and McKinney races could come down to their involvement on the local level. And that could help or hurt Reed, particularly.

“As well known as he is among Republicans, [Reed] is a player at the national level,” Schapiro says. “He’s taking some risk because he’s not known as a commodity in the district.”

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