Everyone has an opinion about why Ralph Reed lost the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Georgia. The most widely publicized theories miss the mark widely, and the best explanations for Reed’s loss are largely ignored.
There is one fundamental reason to reject most of the explanations being advanced by the pundits. In a nutshell, most of the rationales offered for Reed’s defeat are self-serving spin.
Secular liberals want you to believe that Reed lost because he was simply “too religious.” Christian conservatives want you to believe that Reed lost because he looked “too liberal” in aiding Jack Abramoff’s gambling interests. Reformers insist that Reed was “too hypocritical,” acting pious in public while “humping” for dollars in private. And old-school populists insist that Ralph was exposed as “too close to big business” for aiding Enron and Microsoft.
In short, everyone wants to see Reed’s defeat as validation of his or her own beliefs.
Of course, there is a little truth in all these conclusions. I am sure that the lusty e-mail dialogues between Reed and Abramoff disgusted some Christians. I am equally certain some voters feared Reed would violate church-state separation once elected. But to conclude that any one of these self-serving theories provides a single, simple explanation for Reed’s loss is naive.
The unsophisticated debate over Reed’s defeat has largely ignored or obscured some plausible contributing factors. Perhaps the most overlooked matter is crossover voting by Democrats.
Georgia has an open primary that allows any voter to participate in either party’s election. Late in the campaign, some liberal groups — particularly gay and lesbian leaders — encouraged traditional Democrats to vote in the GOP primary against Reed. While a few local media outlets reported that — and some homosexual websites now openly boast of the plan’s success — the mainstream media wholly ignored the story.
For liberals, the headlines “Scandal defeats Reed” or “Christians abandon Reed” suited their worldview better than did “Gay conspiracy sabotages Reed.”
But don’t get me wrong. I’m not alleging that a gay cabal was primarily responsible for Reed’s loss. But it’s one of several factors that played a role.
There are even more theories that have received scant consideration. Peggy Noonan, for example, ruminates on Reed’s looks.
She recalls once thinking that Reed “looked like a daguerreotype of one of the boy generals of the Civil War, his dark hair slicked back and his collar too big for his neck.” Actually, that’s exactly the visage that Reed maintained throughout his summer campaign. So if it turned off Miz Peggy, I suspect there are other Yankee women living in Dixie who also thought Ralph’s hairdo and collars needed a makeover.
Some of Noonan’s other recent observations actually get closer to the heart of the matter. She complained of his “advanced insiderism” and tendency to seem in love with being “a top and big-time operative.” This was the central problem.
Political consultants are generally not very good candidates. They talk too much about campaign process and not enough about policy and vision. And they find it tough to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses objectively. I cannot help but believe Reed underestimated the real-world difficulties confronting his first-time candidacy.
And there’s even the ignored matter of Casey Cagle, the man who trounced Reed. In the rush to discredit Ralph, almost no one seems to give this state senator any credit for winning.
One pundit who cruised both candidates’ websites acknowledged his surprised discovery that Cagle may have edged Reed in advocating traditional and family values.
Imagine that: the staunchest conservative winning a GOP primary. Few pundits seem interested in that novel angle.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.