Ralph Reed’s Synergy with the Religious Right

I’m at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference and Strategy Briefing today, Ralph Reed’s inaugural effort at reconstituting the Christian Coalition for the 21st century. There aren’t that many attendees here — probably a couple of hundred people in the main ballroom to hear this morning’s speakers — but Reed has competition from a couple of different tea party events going on around town today.

It’s clear that Reed seeks synergy with those groups — he asked the audience at one point how many of them had been at Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally (a few) and how many were planning on going to Sunday’s 9/12 march (again, just a few). Most, though, had been to some sort of tea party event.

But while much homage has been paid here to the tea party’s anti-government positions, the “faith” part of FFC’s message has also been on display. (As I write this, I’m listening to the session “Politics and Culture: Marriage and Family Issues in 2010,” which is all about, well, what the speakers think the Bible means and how religious freedom is under assault.) Reed even told a story about how God speaking through Sean Hannity prompted him to launch the FFC.

But the turnout at Reed’s event is a fraction of the usual turnout at the annual Values Voters Summit, slated to take place next week. But Reed wants to work with them — Tony Perkins and Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council were featured speakers here this morning.

Reed told me that there was indeed “synergy” between the FFC and the Values Voters Summit groups, but that FFC “brings something to the table” that those groups don’t have: organizing and get-out-the-vote drives.

This morning, FFC unveiled “Voter Trak,” proprietary software FFC representatives said cost the organization “six figures,” and which grassroots volunteers can use to access voter lists, market research, and voter responses to survey questions. (I’m no get-out-the-vote expert, but this seems like the sort of thing any campaign would be doing these days.) Voter Trak was used in two gubernatorial races in 2009, both won by Republicans (New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Virginia’s Bob McConnell). FFC representatives asserted that it played a role in increasing the conservative share of the electorate compared to 2008. 

It remains to be seen, of course, if “Ralph Reed is back.” As I wrote back in March, not all conservative evangelicals would be thrilled with the return of Jack Abramoff’s sidekick. There aren’t a lot of new faces here — although McDonnell will speak within the hour, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich had prime speaking slots before lunch. But Reed’s organizing capabilities are highly respected by a lot of conservatives, and if candidates his FFC supports win in November, I’m guessing that Reed will claim Voter Trak and his state-level organizers deserve credit.