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Abramoff ties doom Reed candidacy; Cagle wins

ATLANTA - Ralph Reed complained for weeks leading up to his defeat Tuesday in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor that the news media weren't paying attention to the issues.

He had trotted out dozens of pages of position papers on a wide range of subjects, from the need for a cap on state spending to his plan to reduce state income taxes.

But all the newspapers and his opponent, state Sen. Casey Cagle, wanted to talk and write about was Reed's business ties with disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"He became the issue in the campaign,'' said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University. "It was all about Ralph Reed.''

In the end, it was work Reed's Duluth-based consulting firm did on behalf of Abramoff's clients that halted the longtime political strategist's first run at elective office.

Cagle, R-Gainesville, defeated Reed by a surprisingly large margin, carrying nine of the 10 counties with the most Republican votes. On Wednesday, with results tabulated in 97 percent of the state's precincts, Cagle had amassed 56.1 percent of the vote, to 43.9 percent for Reed.

In November, Cagle will meet the winner of an Aug. 8 runoff for the Democratic nomination between former state Rep. Jim Martin and former state Sen. Greg Hecht.

For Cagle, a 12-year veteran of the Senate, Tuesday's win was a reward for perseverance.

The rest of a handful of Republicans who were considering making a bid for lieutenant governor had second thoughts after Reed entered the race two years ago.

Reed had gained a reputation as an invincible political operative and prodigious fundraiser, first as national chairman of the Christian Coalition and later as Georgia's Republican chairman and a leading campaign strategist for both President Bush and his father before him.

Cagle was virtually unknown outside his Hall County-based Senate district.

"Casey has always been underestimated,'' said Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, who recruited Cagle to run for the General Assembly when Shafer was serving as the state GOP's executive director.

"Very few people gave Casey a chance in 1994. ... But he won a tremendous upset victory that year.''

Cagle lined up Shafer and about 20 other Republican senators to form the backbone of his campaign for lieutenant governor, a position whose only duty under Georgia's Constitution is to preside over the Senate.

A host of other state and local Republican elected officials also lent their support.

Reed, on the other hand, determined to rely on an ability to muster grass-roots support that had always paid off for him in the past.

But supporters say it didn't work this time because of a constant barrage of negative publicity stemming from his work for Abramoff, who was convicted early this year for bribing public officials.

After a two-year investigation, a U.S. Senate committee released a report last month alleging that Reed's company received $5.3 million from two Indian tribes to build opposition to proposed casinos that would have competed with those tribes' gambling

operations.

Reed said Abramoff assured him that none of that money was derived from the tribes' gambling income.

Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, said the controversy apparently prompted many religious conservatives who would have supported Reed to stay home.

Indeed, the Cagle-Reed race drew more than 200,000 fewer voters than cast ballots two years ago in the U.S. Senate Republican primary contest between then-U.S. Rep. Johnny Isakson - the eventual winner - and two opponents.

"I think (Cagle) was able to take advantage of what was being reported to leave in the minds of many values voters enough doubts to keep them at bay, and they didn't show up,'' Staton said.