In the battle to become Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor, the Ralph Reed vs. Casey Cagle fight is going to be one to watch nationally. Already money is flowing in among the Reed haters and Reed followers. With a year to go, Cagle is out charging hard raising his profile while Reed stays under the radar.
Ralph Reed is the former Chairman of the Christian Coalition and Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. Reed gets a lot of credit for organizing the party effectively in 2002, which led to the GOP’s take over of the Governor’s Mansion, State Senate, and, two years later, the State House. Reed also was dumped as Chairman shortly after the first elected GOP Governor in Georgia’s history was sworn in — it remains unresolved how much of it was voluntary and how much of it was pressure from the Governor. Since then, Reed coordinated the President’s GOTV efforts in the Southeast quite successfully.
Senator Casey Cagle represents Georgia’s 49th Senate District, which includes Hall, Jackson, Forsyth, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Madison, Pickens, and Dawson Counties. The area is one of the prettiest, fastest growing, and richest in the state. As a senator, Cagle chairs the Senate Finance Committee and sits on its Appropriations Committee. Not well known outside the Senate or his district, Cagle does not have the name recognition of Ralph Reed in the state, but is working hard to overcome that.
In raising his profile, Cagle has thus far made the race about Reed. Cagle already has on the payroll several people who either worked for Reed or with him. They have done more to attack Reed than promote Cagle, except for their handy work at the State Convention (we’ll get to that). Joel McElhannon, Cagle’s strategic consultant, is a master at earned media and has so far been able to directly and indirectly draw attention to Reed’s flaws. Sources at several national media outlets tell me that a lot of national press coverage of Reed lately has come from unnamed Georgia Republicans. The fingerprints, at first glance, appear to be those of Cagle staffers.
While Cagle has a master of earned media on his payroll and one of the best mail designers in the Southeast, Jay Williams, on call, Reed is a reputed master of grassroots activism. While the newspapers have been filled with stories of Reed’s excesses, with more to come, Reed has rather quietly begun building a formidable organization through Georgia. Sources close to Reed and independent confirmations indicate that Reed already has more than 110 county chairmen in place for a grassroots organization being built in all of Georgia’s 159 counties. With more than 500 active campaign participants and only one paid staffer, Reed is hoarding money rumored to already be in excess of $1million given and more pledged.
The campaign, more than a year away, will feature a group of people who hate Reed against Reed and those who like him. The Cagle camp already has several staffers to Reed’s one staffer and has already spent a good deal of money. At Georgia’s Republican Convention, Cagle had a well stocked and prepared hospitality area, large vertical banners, and a professionally produced introductory video. Even more noticeable, Cagle had his logo on all the room keycards at the hotel. Even critics were impressed with the way McElhannon was able to garner attention for Cagle, but one ardent Cagle supporter told me, “There was a lot of bang and a lot of buck, but it seems too early to be spending that much cash. I’m not sure what the strategy is besides making Reed unpalatable.” Reed, like the tortoise, is continuing to build a war chest one friend of his says “grows regularly and has not dropped off despite all the attacks. If anything, the grassroots folks who helped Reed in 2002 are pissed that some people are beating him up.” Says one Reed diehard, “He got us into the majority and its our turn to help him.”
With a year to go, both sides are in it to win. Early projections of a clear Reed victory have been dampened by all the stories on Reed. The latest salvo is that Ralph Reed is lobbying on behalf of the cable and television industries’ opposition to decency standards. Those prone to betting, however, are still putting their money on Reed getting through the primary based on name recognition and grassroots. If Cagle can build his name recognition statewide, however, he has a real shot — assuming his money holds.
In the words of one outside observer, “It’s too soon to tell, but my money is on Ralph for the primary and the Democrat for the general.”