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Scandal Mounts in Ralph Reed Campaign

ATLANTA – Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, whose campaign for Georgia lieutenant governor has been clouded by questions over his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, is promoting himself as the candidate with “stronger values.”

His opponent, state Sen. Casey Cagle, has responded by calling Reed’s campaign ads the “height of hypocrisy” and questioning publicly whether Reed could be charged with wrongdoing during the run-up to the November general election.

Reed seemed unstoppable last year when he first announced his intention to run for the seat. In his first campaign for elected office, he broke early fundraising records and scared other would-be Republican contenders out of running in the July 18 primary.

Cagle, though, has gained momentum and name recognition since concerns over Reed’s ties with Abramoff have grabbed headlines across the state.

An investigation by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Senate committee last month found that two Indian tribes, which were both Abramoff clients, sent $5.3 million to Reed, sometimes using non-profits as intermediaries, to battle gambling initiatives that would have hurt their business.

Reed has not been charged with a crime and has said repeatedly that he regrets the work he did with Abramoff. His campaign said the committee’s two-year probe vindicated Reed and confirms he has not been accused of wrongdoing. At a recent debate, Reed reprimanded Cagle for implying he should be charged.

“It’s a low blow to suggest that somebody’s committed a crime. As far as I’m concerned, you should be ashamed of yourself,” he said, adding that voters will reject a “guilt by association” strategy.

Cagle, meanwhile, questions whether a Reed victory could hurt the rest of the Republican field in the state’s general election.

“It raises serious issues for Georgia Republicans. Whether or not he’s indicted is a matter for the criminal justice system to decide,” Cagle said in an interview. “But I believe what he did should be against the law.”

Recent polls show the two running neck-and-neck and the latest finance reports show similar parity, with both candidates raising roughly $2.5 million. Cagle, though, is encouraged that the latest report showed his campaign tripled Reed’s fundraising over a three-month period. To keep pace, Reed lent himself $500,000 last month to finance the campaign.

Both have used the funds to fill the airwaves with ads. Reed’s campaign has spent roughly $400,000 on media buys, while the report shows Cagle has spent more than $600,000 on advertising.

Reed, who took the helm of the Christian Coalition in 1989 and led the conservative organization to national prominence before he stepped down in 1997, has been endorsed by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former U.S. Sen. Zell Miller (news, bio, voting record) – a conservative Democrat who has made a recent practice of endorsing Republicans.

After returning to the Atlanta suburbs, Reed served as chairman of the state GOP during the 2002 elections, when the party pulled off upset victories to elect the state’s first Republican governor since 1872 and gained control of the state Senate.

Cagle, whose banking and real estate companies have made him a millionaire, has the support of former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes and state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, who pulled out of the race for lieutenant governor shortly after Reed entered. Perdue, Georgia’s governor, has remained neutral.

The field of Democrats in the race likely face a tough challenge regardless of who wins, because of Georgia’s recent Republican tilt. But that hasn’t stopped Bobby Kahn, chairman of Georgia’s Democratic Party, from attacking Reed’s work with a “superlobbyist” and Cagle’s pro-banking voting record.

The Democratic candidates include former state Sen. Greg Hecht, state Sen. Steen Miles and former state Department of Human Resources Commissioner Jim Martin.

Reed’s campaign platform focuses on returning state surpluses to taxpayers, combining boot camps with classrooms to reform troubled students, and instilling more fiscal discipline by requiring lawmakers to write a new state budget every two years instead of annually. He also supports eliminating income taxes for seniors and restricting annual property-tax assessment increases.

Cagle promises to hand school districts more local control, offer grants to encourage more parental involvement and choice between schools, and play a larger role in jobs creation. If elected, he hopes to grant the lieutenant governor a permanent seat on the state’s economic development board and create a “jobs czar” within his office to encourage job-enticing legislation.

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