Tuesday's primary election in Georgia will decide whether former Christian Coalition commander Ralph Reed has fooled enough home-state Republicans to win the party's nomination for lieutenant governor.
Reed, who made millions of dollars exploiting his reputation as "Mr. Moral Values" to help GOP influence peddler Jack Abramoff defend casino gambling interests and corporations exploiting sweatshop labor, is so compromised that some Democrats hope he wins the nomination, since they think they can beat him in November. The Democratic desire to run against Reed in November was heightened by the primary-eve announcement that a Texas Indian tribe had filed a civil fraud lawsuit against Reed and others, claiming that Reed conspired with Abramoff to shut down the tribe's casino while hiding the fact that they were in the pay of another tribe and competing casinos.
But, as Atlanta's smart alternative weekly newspaper, Creative Loafing, noted in its endorsement of Reed's primary rival, state Senator Casey Cagle: "Careful what you wish for."
It is not just Georgians who should be worried about this race.
With all the flack he's taking, the politically-savvy Reed would have backed out of this race if he was just running for the not-particularly-exciting office of lieutenant governor. He would not have risked the defeat that polls suggest could be handed him by Cagle.
But Reed is not just running for lieutenant governor.
Tuesday's primary is the first step on a campaign trail that the hyper-ambitious candidate hopes will take him to the governorship of Georgia in four years and then to a presidential run in 2012 or 2016.
Reed's betting that, if he can overcome all the talk about his Abramoff ties now, he'll be able to put the scandal behind him by the time he enters the national spotlight.
A crazy notion? Hardly. Republican strategists generally agree that, if Reed wins the primary and prevails in November, he will instantaneously emerge as the most prominent Christian conservative politician in the country. Based on his track record, Reed will parlay that prominence into a fund-raising campaign that will fill his campaign treasury with more than enough money to advance his state and national ambitions.
If Reed takes the governorship in four years, as a slew of Georgia lieutenant governors have in the past and as pundits suggests is certainly within the realm of possibility, he will be positioned to begin making the moves that are necessary to launch the presidential bid that has always been the end goal of the man who built the Christian Coalition from the remnants of Pat Robertson's failed 1988 campaign for the Republican nomination.
That's why Reed is running so hard this week. The critical first rung on the ladder of electoral politics he has been preparing to climb for more than two decades is within reach. The only question is whether Georgia Republicans will overlook his scandalous behavior and help him grasp it.