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Reed loses supporters to Cagle

camie.young@gwinnettdailypost.com

LAWRENCEVILLE - A half dozen Gwinnett County political and business leaders have jumped Ralph Reed's ship to hop on Casey Cagle's bandwagon.

In a letter to Reed, the former members of the statewide steering committee in the Duluth Republican's bid for lieutenant governor said they've decided that Cagle, a state senator from Gainesville, is the better candidate for the GOP nomination.

"Please know that our decision to support Senator Casey Cagle's campaign is in no way an attempt to undermine or criticize you,'' said the letter, released by the Cagle campaign on Friday.

"Rather, we believe that Casey's combination of experience, electability, dedication to conservative values and record of integrity in office make him the best choice for our party at this critical time.''

The six from Gwinnett signing the letter included:

- Bruce Garraway, a city councilman in Snellville

- Stan Hall, director of the victim-witness program in the Gwinnett district attorney's office and a candidate for sheriff last year

- Christopher Harris, a Lawrenceville developer of single-family subdivisions

- Ron Johnson, a former Sugar Hill councilman

- Josh Moore, an active member of the Georgia Young Republicans

- Nick Thompson, a city councilman in Sugar Hill.

The letter also was signed by Maurice Atkinson of Macon, a longtime member of the Georgia chapter of the Christian Coalition; Patrick Cork, former Republican chairman in Valdosta; and Clint Murphy, a veteran GOP strategist from

Savannah.

Reed has been beset for months with adverse media publicity surrounding his business dealings with once-powerful Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff during the years after Reed stepped down in 1997 as national chairman of the Christian Coalition.

The heat intensified this month when Abramoff pleaded guilty to bribery charges in an arrangement with federal prosecutors that is expected to widen the scandal to members of Congress.

Thompson called the impact of the Abramoff case on Reed "noteworthy.'' But he said it wasn't the reason he decided to cast his lot with Cagle.

"I think Casey is more of a localized (candidate) than Ralph is,'' Thompson said. "A lot of local people have respect for him.''

Cagle spokesman Brad Alexander said the Abramoff case is only part of the reason for the siphoning of support from Reed. Alexander said there's also growing familiarity with Cagle, who had little name recognition entering the race.

"People are getting a chance to meet Casey outside of his Senate district,'' Alexander said. "That's making a difference.''

Jared Thomas, Reed's campaign manager, said the loss of nine supporters pales in comparison to the growth Reed's steering committee has enjoyed since the candidate unveiled the list last May. The list started at 473 and has added more than 100 names, Thomas said.

Thomas accused Cagle of obsessing with attacks on Reed while the latter continues to churn out policy positions on such key issues facing Georgia as education, transportation and economic development.

"We'll continue talking about our policy proposals, and Casey Cagle will continue talking about Ralph Reed,'' Thomas said.