News - Will Ralph Reed sink the Georgia GOP?

No. The real threat is not Reed, but candidates determined to make the GOP the official party of the Old South.

To hear Ralph Reed's enemies tell it, you'd think the new chairman of the Georgia GOP is going to wreck his party just by being chosen to lead it.

Before his election, Republican opponents claimed the former Christian Coalition leader would scare off moderates and cripple GOP prospects. Democrats later parroted the line, as did WSB talker Neal Boortz, whose animosity toward Christian conservatives is locally matched only by Ted Turner.

Well, come in off the ledge, GOP doubters. Put down the champagne, Democrats. And pipe down, Boortz.

Sorry, folks, but Ralph Reed's name is not going to elect a single Democrat. His high-profile past may help state Democrats raise a few extra coins with New York liberals, but Georgians will be thinking of the candidates — not Reed — when they vote in 2002.

Now, if you're tempted to dismiss my take as the pathetic boosterism of a career Reed supporter, don't. I'm not active in party politics, but I was quietly hoping Reed's principal rival, David Shafer, would become chairman. I worked for Shafer years ago, I like him, and I thought he would have done a fine job.

In rooting for Shafer, I also considered Reed's career as a consultant, particularly his role in the 1998 lieutenant governor's race. Perhaps no mere advisor could have saved the self-destructive Mitch Skandalakis from himself, but there is no avoiding the fact that Reed's man ran ugly against the city of Atlanta and smeared his opponent as a dope fiend.

Most opposition to Reed, however, is based not on his record but on the false notion that religious conservatives want to remake America as a theocracy. They don't. In fact, what is frightening is not Christians speaking in the public square but the number of people trying to silence them.

Even Reed's detractors concede he's a smart guy, so expect him to be smart enough not to lead the Georgia GOP on a quixotic single-issue crusade against gays or abortion or naughty library books. Expect him instead to stick to President Bush's winning themes of smaller government, lower taxes and personal responsibility. And expect him to do well.

The real threat to the Georgia GOP is not Reed, but candidates determined to make the party of Lincoln the official party of the Old South. Gubernatorial hopefuls Linda Schrenko and Bill Byrne are both vowing to re-fight the flag battle. Heaven itself couldn't help Republicans if they do.

If Democrats, meanwhile, want to run against Ralph Reed, they can have at it. Voters, God bless 'em, always have cared far more about who is on the ballot than who isn't.??

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