July 19, 2006 7:04 pm

Christian conservative leader laid low by Georgia poll

He was once considered so influential that Time magazine put him on its cover under the banner, “The Right Hand of God”.

But on Wednesday morning Ralph Reed’s political ambitions lay in ruins following the failure of his attempt to become lieutenant governor of Georgia.

Mr Reed, the charismatic former head of the Christian Coalition, a powerful conservative group, was beaten in the state’s Republican primary by Casey Cagle, a little-known state senator.

Running for lieutenant governor in his home state was supposed to be an easy first step on a political ladder that many assumed would eventually lead to high office in Washington.

But his campaign was derailed by revelations about his close ties to Jack Abramoff, the disgraced Washington lobbyist who was convicted of fraud and corruption earlier this year. Though he was not accused of anything illegal, Mr Reed’s involvement with Mr Abramoff tarnished his reputation as a champion of moral values.

It emerged during the campaign that Mr Reed, a vocal opponent of gambling, had received more than $5m (€4m, £2.7m) from casino-owning Indian tribes represented by Mr Abramoff to rally Christian voters against attempts by other tribes to open rival casinos.

Mr Reed said he did not know the cash came from gambling interests, although several e-mails disclosed during the campaign called that claim into doubt.

The scandal caused many senior Georgia Republicans to withdraw support from Mr Reed, fearing he would energise Democrats and alienate independents in the November election.

Mr Cagle won the primary with 56 per cent of votes cast, while Mr Reed received 44 per cent. In his concession speech, Mr Reed said he had no plans for another tilt at public office but vowed to keep campaigning for conservative causes. “Stay in the fight,” he urged his supporters. “Don’t retreat and our values will win in November.”

Mr Reed, 45, is credited with having helped turn Christian conservatives into an electoral force in the 1990s by bringing grassroots political organisation to the movement. In other Georgia primaries, Cynthia McKinney, the Democratic congresswoman who earned notoriety for her scuffle with a Capitol Hill police officer in March, faces a run-off election after failing to win more than 50 per cent of the vote in her Atlanta district.

Mark Taylor, the current lieutenant governor, beat Cathy Cox, secretary of state, to the Democratic nomination for governor but faces an uphill struggle to unseat Sonny Perdue, the popular Republican incumbent, in November.

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