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Interview with Ralph Reed, February 6, 2018

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:01:11 - Childhood in Miami and Toccoa

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Partial Transcript: I was wondering if we could begin- you telling us a little about your upbringing.

Segment Synopsis: Reed recalls moving around frequently during his father's military service before settling down in Miami, Florida and then to Toccoa, Georgia. Reed elaborates how the opposites of Toccoa and Miami taught him about different aspects of American life, namely diversity and religion.

Keywords: Baptists; Bible Belt; Cuban-Americans; Latin Americans; Methodists; Stephens County, Georgia; evangelicals; textiles

00:06:13 - Introduction to politics

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Partial Transcript: Tell me, you were born and raised in a military family, Miami, Stephens County, Georgia.

Segment Synopsis: Reed explains that he first became interested in politics in 1972, when both the Republican and Democratic Parties held their national conventions in Miami, with coverage of the conventions dominating local news. Reed then gives some reasons why he came to see politics as not only interesting but important and valuable, citing Allen Drury's novel Advise and Consent as the main impetus for this change in perspective.

Keywords: 1972 Democratic National Convention; 1972 Republican National Convention; Baby boomers; Battle of Verdun; George McGovern; Newt Gingrich; World War I; young voters

00:16:43 - College Republicans / Interning with Zell Miller

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Partial Transcript: So you graduated Stephens County High in 1979?

Segment Synopsis: Reed discusses how he came to join the College Republicans while attending the University of Georgia, eventually becoming the chapter's chairman. At that same time, Reed interned with Democrat lieutenant governor Zell Miller's office, teaching him many of the skills necessary for campaigning and public administration.

Keywords: 1980 Senate election; Bill Burson; Democratic primary; Georgia Baptist Conference Center; Herman Talmadge; Stephens County, Georgia; Toccoa, Georgia; University of North Georgia; debate team

00:23:57 - 1980 Senate election

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Partial Transcript: Did you work for- he would become Senator Mattingly, but he was just Mack Mattingly at the time- did you work-

Segment Synopsis: Reed describes the 1980 senate election, using Herman Talmadge's ethical issues against him throughout the campaign. He notes how they observed most of the votes for Republican Mack Mattingly were coming from "anti-Talmadge" voters in suburban areas who could eventually be brought into the Republican coalition long-term.

Keywords: 1980 Reagan campaign; Betty Talmadge; Democratic primary; Talmadge family; Zell Miller; committee assignments; corruption; metro Atlanta; one-party system; segregation; young voters

00:31:41 - Involvement in national politics

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Partial Transcript: What was your next step in terms of political participation, for the Mattingly campaign?

Segment Synopsis: Reed remembers his involvement with national politics, including working for with the College Republicans National Committee and organizing the group Students for America. He then explains how his involvement with the latter organization led to him meeting Pat Robertson in-person at George H.W. Bush's inauguration.

Keywords: 1988 Republican National Convention; 1988 presidential election; DeKalb County, Georgia; Emory University; Grover Norquist; Jack Abramoff; Jack Kemp; Lee Atwater; Paul Weyrich; Reagan tax cuts; academia; budget cuts; donor base; fundraising; graduate school

00:40:52 - Joining the Christian Coalition

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Partial Transcript: Anyway, at the end of the dinner, he says to me "Come on, I want to talk to you."

Segment Synopsis: Reed describes how Pat Robertson got him to join the nascent Christian Coalition, first by asking Reed to write a memo on how to organize evangelical voters. Then, Reed says, Robertson invited him to a meeting in Atlanta and announced that Reed would be the director of the organization, with Reed himself not knowing beforehand.

Keywords: Atlanta, Georgia; Christian Anti-Communism Crusade; Jerry Falwell; Jimmy Carter; Moral Majority; Robert Byrd machine; Temperance movement; William Jennings Bryan; Women's Christian Temperance Union; grassroots organization

00:49:38 - Grassroots organizations

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Partial Transcript: Apart from being a great story, I want to go back to the memo for a second.

Segment Synopsis: Reed details the successes in bottom-up, grassroots organization for social and political movements in history, citing the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the labor union movement as examples of this. Reed then talks about how he saw this could apply to evangelical voters as a potent political force, regardless of the power of the party to which they are attached.

Keywords: Baptists; Christian Coalition; College Republicans; Mother's Day; Ohio; Prohibition movement; Republican Party; big business; campaigning; lobbying; para-party organization; precinct meetings; social issues; top-down organization; women's suffrage

00:54:59 - The Christian Right and the Republican Party

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Partial Transcript: That was going to be my next question.

Segment Synopsis: Reed recollects how some members of the Democratic Party, particularly Georgia Democrats like Joe Frank Harris and Tom Murphy, espoused social conservatism, making them attractive candidates to evangelicals. Reed then says that once Democrats started taking liberal social positions and alienating evangelical voters, it was the responsibility of Republicans to engage evangelicals on the national level, as well as in state and local elections.

Keywords: 1988 presidential election; Roe v. Wade; Christian Coalition; Doug Bernard; Equal Rights Amendment; Jimmy Carter; Larry McDonald; Moral Majority; Pat Robertson; Robert Bork; Ronald Reagan; Supreme Court of the United States; United States Senate; abortion; closed primaries; grassroots organization; local office; open primaries; party-switching; presidency; school boards

01:04:34 - Paul Coverdell and the 1992 Senate election

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Partial Transcript: How were you able, as executive director of the Christian Coalition up in Virginia, how were you able to convince and work at the state level?

Segment Synopsis: Reed recalls that social conservatives did not support Paul Coverdell in the 1992 Senate Repubican primary, and instead supported John Knox or Bob Barr. Reed elaborates that Coverdell, as a pro-choice Republican, risked alienating social conservatives in the general election until he pledged that he would oppose the Freedom of Choice Act, upon which the Christian Coalition endorsed him against Democrat Wyche Fowler.

Keywords: Pat Gartland; Republican establishment; bipartisanship; candidate recruitment; coalition-building; lobbying; moderation; public policy; runoff election; state director; voter guides

01:11:13 - Social conservatism in statewide races

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Partial Transcript: I'm glad you brought up Paul Coverdell's race in '92.

Segment Synopsis: Reed states that while social issues were important in candidate selection in the 1990s, Georgia Republicans also had to be careful not to focus solely on social issues, lest they isolate swing voters in the general election. Reed specifically refers to the 2000 George W. Bush presidential campaign, in which he advised Bush to appeal to suburban swing voters by highlighting the economy, taxation, and education over social issues.

Keywords: Atlanta suburbs; Earl Black; Merle Black; Paul Coverdell; Republican Party establishment; Southern politics; battleground state; environmental issues; establishment candidates; migration; pro-life movement; racial issues

01:18:20 - Single-issue voting / Polling

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Partial Transcript: You- I mean, you just did- but you would consciously push back against the term "single-issue voters?"

Segment Synopsis: Reed talks about why he doesn't believe in the idea of a "single-issue voter", drawing from his own experience that voters care about a variety of issues, even if some issues have a higher priority. He then explains why he does not see polling as the perfect predictor of electoral results- namely because pollsters make assumptions about voter turnout that, if untrue, nullify any conclusions they draw.

Keywords: 2002 election; Affordable Care Act; Bush tax cuts; Faith and Freedom Coalition; Iran nuclear deal; National Rifle Association; Saxby Chambliss; Second Amendment; Sonney Perdue; Trump tax cuts; faith-based voters; government spending; microtargeting; school choice; voter education; voter guides

01:27:10 - Running for state party chairman

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Partial Transcript: We did sort of jump ahead and talk about 2002.

Segment Synopsis: Reed describes why he opted to join the race for state party chairman in 2001, ultimately winning the race. Reed credits his desire to see Georgia finally vote Republican in statewide and local races, as well as his fundraising and grassroots organizational experience, as leading him to join the race.

Keywords: 2000 George W. Bush campaign; Bell South; Cherokee County, Georgia; Chuck Clay; Earl Black; Fayette County, Georgia; Forsyth County, Georgia; Georgia Republican Party; Gwinnett County, Georgia; Henry County, Georgia; House Commerce Committee; Karl Rove; Lumpkin County, Georgia; Mack Mattingly; Merle Black; Nathan Deal; Newt Gingrich; Paul Coverdell; Zell Miller; donor base; fundraising; political consulting; suburban voters; vote recounts

01:36:41 - State party's role in the 2002 U.S. Senate race

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Partial Transcript: So how much- you just mention you were close with Karl Rove, the Bush White House, the Bush political operation- how much coordination was there in supporting Saxby Chambliss?

Segment Synopsis: Reed comments that the state party had no role in selecting Saxby Chambliss over Bob Irvin in the 2002 senate primary race; rather, it was the national Republican Party that was pushing for Chambliss over Irvin. Reed then talks about why he believed Saxby Chambliss and Sonny Perdue could succeed statewide, stating that voters' perception that they were not "establishment" candidates from Atlanta aided them among rural voters.

Keywords: Earl Black; George W. Bush; Jack Oliver; Jay Timmons; Jim Gilmore; Joe Frank Harris; Merle Black; Moultrie, Georgia; National Republican Senate Committee; Public Opinion Strategies; Republican National Committee; absentee ballots; faith-based voters; national committeeman; national committeewoman; social conservatism; suburban voters; voter registration; voter turnout

01:46:53 - Why Republicans succeeded in 2002

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Partial Transcript: Do you think- there's some debate about- Saxby Chambliss very much won that election from Cleland- how much do you think Sonny Perdue's victory was like Herman Talmadge 20 years before?

Segment Synopsis: Reed analyzes the reasons why Sonny Perdue succeeded in 2002 when the odds were stacked against him, with Reed concluding that much of Perdue's success had to do with the mistakes of his Democrat opponent, Roy Barnes. Reed then lists the ways Karl Rove instructed him on how to build up the Republican Party in Georgia: recruit strong candidates statewide; bolster fundraising; strengthen party organization in suburban areas; and embrace tough primary races because they indicate strong general election prospects.

Keywords: 2001 redistricting; Atlanta suburbs; Bill Byrne; Bob Barr; Bob Irvin; Cherokee County, Georgia; Forsyth County, Georgia; George W. Bush; Guy Millner; John Linder; Linda Schrenko; Max Cleland; Northern Arc; Saxby Chambliss; direct mail; doorknocking; education reform; grassroots organization; internal polling; microtargeting; phonebanking; state flag; teachers' unions

01:59:27 - Sonny Perdue and the 2002 gubernatorial race

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Partial Transcript: Here's the other thing that I haven't mentioned.

Segment Synopsis: Reed recalls seeing polling data before the 2002 election which indicated that not only were both Sonny Perdue and Saxby Chambliss performing well in competitive regions, but Perdue was outperforming Chambliss. He notes that even if Perdue had not won his gubernatorial race, the competitive campaign still would have drawn money away from the Senate race, allowing Saxby Chambliss an easier victory.

Keywords: Eric Johnson; George W. Bush; Glenn Bolger; Jack Oliver; Karl Rove; Public Opinion Strategies; Republican National Committee; Republican State Senate Caucus; Roy Barnes; Tim Phillips; battleground races; fundraising; swing districts; targeting

02:04:48 - Republican governance in Georgia

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Partial Transcript: That sort of leads me to my next question, which is the Republican Party has been in control of the state of Georgia since...

Segment Synopsis: Reed lists the struggles that came with the Republican takeover of Georgia government, learning the difficulties of being the governing party for the first time. He then states that the biggest threat to Republican governance is expecting victories to come without effort and becoming complacent as the dominant party.

Keywords: 2008 recession; Dan Carter; Jason Carter; Jimmy Carter; Michelle Nunn; Nathan Deal; National Rifle Association; Sam Nunn; Sonny Perdue; budget reform; business community; criminal justice reform; education reform; gun issues; healthcare reform; income taxes; legacy candidates; overconfidence; party switching; policy; prison reform; risk-aversion; social conservatives; state senate; tax cuts; transportation reform

02:12:52 - Donald Trump and evangelicals

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Partial Transcript: Well, last question.

Segment Synopsis: Reed contemplates Donald Trump's role within the Republican Party, comparing his movement to Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and Franklin Roosevelt for the Democratic Party. Reed comments that he understood Donald Trump's appeal to evangelical voters on policy grounds after attending a rally at Valdosta State University in 2016.

Keywords: 2002 11th district Republican primary; Cecil Staton; Lowndes County, Georgia; Phil Gingrey; grassroots organization; party transformation