Christian Coalition will miss Reed Greener pastures: Charismatic executive director moves on, organization may falter.

September 17, 1997

HAVING MADE debatable progress pushing an agenda, Ralph Reed will instead push candidates. Expect him to be successful. He's an organization man, the boy genius who used the rubble from Pat Robertson's failed 1988 run for the presidency to build the Christian Coalition.

So media savvy has been this cherub-faced pol that newspapers accepted without question his claim of 1.9 million disciples. At its meeting Saturday to bid Mr. Reed adieu, the coalition put its paid membership at a mere 400,000. Whatever its numbers, when the Christian Coalition spoke, the people listened -- at least Republican political candidates who wanted access to its mailing list did.

But the coalition's legislative successes have not mirrored its apparent impact in elections. The coalition claims to have led the $500-per-child tax credit out of the wilderness to enactment, but the group has little to show for all its shouting about moral issues such as school prayer and abortion. Mr. Reed has decided that won't change until he adds muscle to the flock.

He has become an outright political consultant, who already has expected GOP presidential aspirants such as Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft, Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former Vice President Dan Quayle vying for his attention. But Mr. Reed says he wants to do battle at the grass-roots level first, helping to elect Republican candidates in smaller campaigns.

And what of the Christian Coalition? Before his departure Mr. Reed was striving mightily to increase its ranks by recruiting minorities who share his conservative ideology on many moral issues, if not social and economic ones. But he was making little headway in areas where liberal Democrats have traditionally held sway. And it is doubtful that his successors -- new coalition president Don Hodel and executive director Randy Tate -- will be more successful.

A Reedless Christian Coalition, however, will still have clout. And events such as the non-political Promise Keepers rally next month in Washington may yet prompt significant numbers of black and Hispanic Christians also to re-evaluate the way they vote. More likely, though, is that the coalition will incorrigibly follow the example of the Republican Party it supports, paying more lip service to bringing minority voters into the fold than actually doing it.

Pub Date: 9/17/97

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