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Will Ralph drop out of race?

Would you persist in a campaign for lieutenant governor if you knew that you faced the following obstacles?

•A congressional hearing will reconvene in January in which your name is likely to be bandied about - again - in connection with a complex scheme to bilk Indian casino operators out of tens of millions of dollars.

•You also may expect to be mentioned regarding lavish overseas golfing junkets involving high-ranking congressmen and presently accused felons.

•One of your former business acquaintances has agreed to plead guilty to a federal bribery indictment in exchange for a reduced sentence and testimony naming others in casino deals and golf trips. Those "others" could include you.

•Some of your fellow Georgia Republicans are pulling out the stops to make certain you don't win the GOP nomination. They have been joined by a group of business leaders in hosting a $1,000-a-ticket reception Dec. 6 at a swank Atlantic Station cafe to support your Republican opponent, state Sen. Casey Cagle. ("Cigars by Cohiba, Scotch by Johnny Walker," the richly engraved invitation says. For $10,000, an invitee can have dinner with "Special [unidentified] Guests." Moguls Robert E. Matthews, John A. Williams, Robert Moultrie and Wayne Mason are among the "chairmen" of the event.)

•At least one Georgia newspaper, The Blackshear Times, has asked you to withdraw from the lieutenant governor's race, and others have been highly critical of your lobbying activities.

•Your one-time close political ally President George W. Bush appears to be in deep trouble nationally. His popularity even in stridently loyal Georgia is declining. He may not be able to help you in a political contest. In fact, he may not be willing to help you.

•Your old friends in the Christian Coalition have begun doubt your dedication.

Those are just some of the problems plaguing former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed as he approaches the holiday season and a possible post-holiday deadline for deciding whether to go forward with his bid for lieutenant governor.

A few months ago, some veteran observers believed Reed was unstoppable. He had wit, personality and presence. He had loads of campaign money at his disposal. The White House was squarely in his corner. After all, he had been a key figure in Bush's Southern landslide in the president's 2004 re-election victory.

As state Republican chairman in 2002, Reed was a principal strategist in Sen. Saxby Chambliss' successful election campaign against Democratic incumbent Max Cleland. Reed also has set records for raising money for Georgia Republican causes.

To be sure, several Georgia Republicans - especially those who were recent Democrat converts - disliked Reed. To them, he seemed a bit too slick, too eager and, worst of all, too suburban. Questions also had been raised about the ethics of some of his tactics as a political consultant. However, who would have thought Reed's name would be mentioned nationally in the same sentence as "defrauded Indians," "golf at St. Andrews" and a big-time fixer known as "Casino Jack"?

Reed's bitterest enemies could hardly have constructed a more politically destructive scenario than the one presently unfolding beyond their influence in Washington. Reed's critics say Reed has come to epitomize the greed, cynicism and hypocrisy of the Beltway culture.

His problems notwithstanding, Reed remains formidable. Some believe he brings two rare commodities to the Georgia political table: intelligence and ambition.

Despite apparent lapses in choosing some friends and associates, Reed deserves high marks as an organizer and achiever. His work as a political consultant and GOP chair are compelling evidence of his talents. Besides, he has a reputation as a super salesman, a personality type our state badly needs in these troubled economic times.

As for ambition, who would want a political leader without ambition? Ambition is an unwritten guarantee that elected officials will do their best to serve their constituents. Solid records of commendable service are usually stair steps to loftier elective posts.

In Reed's case, ambition is a definite virtue.

Still, his first bid for elective office may have become too problematical to succeed. Dropping out of the race or even enduring defeat would not be the end of the road for the 44-year-old Reed.

In a sense, the current round of D.C.-connected scandals featuring Reed as a peripheral character might inoculate the candidate against the effects of an opponent dredging up the material in some future yet-to-be-determined campaign.

Syndicated columnist Bill Shipp writes on Georgia politics. Write him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail bshipp@bellsouth.net. His Web site is www.billshipp.com. His column appears on Wednesday and Sunday.