A Post-Election Chat with Ralph Reed

Amid today’s talk that Barack Obama has narrowed the God Gap, God-o-Meter checked in with Ralph Reed, who spearheaded religious outreach for George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns and who pioneered such outreach for Republicans as executive director of the Christian Coalition.
What surprised you in the exit polls?
The durability–in a difficult election cycle–of the Republicans’ conservative coalition–the overwhelming margin for McCain among evangelicals was about what Bush got four years ago. I don’t think anyone would have anticipated that six or eight months ago. I don’t think that was due entirely to the Palin effect, although she helped.
But the Republican Party has to do some retooling of the party’s grassroots infrastructure, its message and the messengers because we lost some states last night that we haven’t lost in two generations, like Virginia and Indiana.
So one surprise was that evangelicals, who were seen to be despondent over the McCain and the GOP, turned out in droves.
But a truly successful majority party is a multitasking party that tends to its core supporters and reaches out to those who haven’t always felt welcome in their ranks. Obama clearly did that. He never wavered from his core liberal positions… But he reached out to evangelicals, which was a smart thing to do. Now, it didn’t’ work. e tried to emulate Martin Luther King in speaking about the challenges of the poor and left behind in a way that the white majority could hear.
Ronald Reagan did that, reaching out to Catholics and blue collar voters. And four years ago, Bush got 44-percent of the Hispanic vote even while winning 78-percent of evangelicals. So it’s not an either or–you got to do both. The party has to stay true to social conservative but also has to figure out a way to win younger voters and African Americans and Hispanics.
If Obama’s evangelical outreach failed, why was it a smart thing to do?
Because to be competitive in the South and the Midwest heartland of the country whether you win evangelicals votes are not there are a lot of moderate and independent voters that were beginning to have the view that the Democrats are hostile to religious voters. Tgat was hardening. Even if you don’t get the evangelical vote, if you’re going to carry Virginia and Florida and Indiana and Missouri, you can’t be viewed as hostile to religion and the values that people hold. So the Democrats were smart to begin talking about faith and values.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. If you look at what we did at Christian Coalition and then with the Bush campaign, [the Democrats] tried to beat us by attacking us. And it dint’ work. And after about 15 years of attacking the values message, the Democrats decided to copy it and it was smart.
That’s a welcome mat to Republicans–they shouldn’t attempt to veer way from the values message. You can say a lot about what caused this [McCain’s defeat] but it wasn’t caused by the Republican Party’s values message. In two states that McCain lost, Florida and California, McCain lost even as marriage amendments won.
But do you worry that McCain’s loss will be blamed on Sarah Palin and other religious conservatives, who may have scared off independent voters?
I’m not worried at all. If you look at the polling, from the time Palin was selected around August 31 to September 20, when Lehman Brothers cratered and the DOW lost 25 percent and you have a credit crisis and financial panic, MCain was doing fairly well among independents and better among soft Democrats.
The Palin effect was across the board. It energized the base and caused independents and women to give her a second look. The gap began to yawn again around the financial panic. It was after McCain suspended his campaign and went to Washington and was not able to come up with a solution that united his party. But if you talk to people on the ground, the volunteers, the door-to-door knockers [for McCain], they were invisible until McCain selected Palin. I think it’s revisionist history to blame the bottom of the ticket for issues that were always top of the ticket.
There’s been a lot of talk about Palin’s future. How can she have a future as a national candidate if her appeal is strong but limited to the Republican base–largely its religious base?
The strong but limited appeal was based on the ticket. The ticket underperformed among independents and those outside the Republican coalition. The sinking tide lowered all boats. But I don’t think it’s fair to particularize it to her. She has not yet been tested as a candidate in a normal national campaign, where she’d get the opportunity to introduce herself to voters in a primary.
I’d argue that if Obama had not run for president and Hillary Clinton would have won the nomination and then selected Obama as her running mate, with Rev. Wright and Rezko and Ayers and his voting record, he would have never had the opportunity to litigate all that like he did in the primaries.


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posted November 5, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Ralph Reed reminds me of the antichrist

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posted November 5, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Too bad that Reed and his cronies can’t wrap their heads around the fact that my partner and I are also Christian VALUES voters.

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posted November 6, 2008 at 3:29 pm

As a Christian living in Indiana who spent countless hours talking to neighbors and those in my faith community about the fact that Baracks stance on every issue was the more Christ like; I’d just like to state that Mr.Reed is full of it.
I know of many in the faith community here in Indiana felt the same way and that a lot of us where motivated to convince others of that fact. Even if it was not a majority, beleive me, plenty of us saw the light.

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posted November 8, 2008 at 1:24 pm

Fact-check the latest quotes from Ralph Reed and others at www.

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posted November 8, 2008 at 7:55 pm

in What dream world does Ralph Redd live in? Really! McCain lost the Evangelicals in droves. Many stayed at home, many voted for Obama. Only the Extreme Right Evangelicals turned out for McCain in desperation because they feared Obama and beleived their own lies.
McCain lost because the Ecomomy was more important than Abortion. The Far Right Religious Wing failed to see the real failure of their party, and even today as more jobs are lost and more jobs are shipped overseas, they still cling to the one issue agenda. It aint working folks, get in line with the real world.
When the collection plates are empty because the people can’t pay their tithes, maybe then you will see that “Its the economy, stupid,” everytime.

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Fr. Zeile

posted November 10, 2008 at 12:04 pm

I am surprised by the hostility of the previous comments. I am inclined to agree with Ralph Reed’s analysis, though even he would admit that it is only part of the picture. The Republican Party is made up of three general factions, with which I am more or less in agreement: 1) the limited government, free-market economy folks; 2) the strong defense folks; and 3)the social conservative folks. A fruitful balanced alliance can be achieved by these factions if mutual respect (which requires some restraint) is maintained. Each faction has its extremists, and it is tempting, especially for media, to characterize each faction by its extremes. #1 can be dominated by the country club crowd, #2 can be dominated by the security hawks whose conviction of the need for action obscures (for the public) concern for civil liberties. And #3 is often characterized, unfairly by the media, by those whose sense of the difference between church, society, and state is hazy. President Bush was strong on #2, and somewhat good on #3, but disasterous on #1. To pay for the Iraq and Katrina, the budget was bloated and a perception of Republican pork tarnished our label in the public. Plus, Bush tried to govern bi-partisanly, but the Democrats stepped away from all the measures they had voted for- No Child Left Behind, Iraq, and Katrina aid- blaming Bush who had lost his integrity as far as Republican economic conservatives were concerned. All it took was for Obama to tar McCain with the Bush brush and the media did the rest.

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Rodolfo Henderson

posted November 10, 2008 at 3:11 pm

Thank you for allowing my comment on this topic.
I’m thankful that we live in a country where it’s populace have the right and freedom to vote, for it’s elected officials. The majority of voters elected Sen. Obama as their president. Yes it’s true that the economy was at the top of the list for voters, as is the long war in Iraq. I must say as well, that a win for Sen. Obama was also a win for the general media. Sen. Obama was the favorite child of the media. The other thing that Republicans had to contest with was that for perhaps several months and even a number of years, the media has been portraying the Republican party, i.e. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, as either dishonest, ignorant bufoons or liers. The problems in our country seemed to be blamed more often on the “Bush Administration”. Month after month the media displayed the “Bush Administration” as if it were a disease and de-personalized the office of the President. I grieve that the mentality of the media, talk show hosts, late night comedians, as well as those opposed to the Republican party, ridiculed and debased our highest office in the nation. Don’t we remember that immediately after 911, we still held great respect for President Bush and I truly believe that he provided the leadership and support that our country so desperately needed at that time. In response to why this election went the way it did, let’s face it, the Democratic party, used every single tool, weapon and stategy necessary to win and take over the minds and hearts of voing Americans. As it is said, to the victor belongs the spoil.
I just hope that in the next presidential election, all of us, including the general media, will handle ourselves with dignity and be true to an honest battle, instead of using any means to an end mentality.

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posted November 18, 2008 at 9:59 pm

Ralph Reed should change his name to Dick because he is one.

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