Deal W. Hudson
November 6, 2009
The election results of November 2 were not merely the spontaneous reaction of Republicans to the bad economy and liberal excesses of the Obama administration. The four pro-life, conservative GOP candidates in Virginia and New Jersey were elected in a groundswell of religious and social conservatives, many of them independent voters who had voted for Obama only a year ago.
A new grassroots organization played a major role in getting these voters to the polls – the Faith & Freedom Coalition was founded by Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, in May 2009. Starting only a few months before the election, Reed’s FFC was able to generate 4.5 million voter contacts in Virginia, New Jersey, and the 23rd Congressional District of New York for the November 2 election.
Reed began by hiring Jack St. Martin as his executive director. St. Martin, a Catholic, has extensive experience in campaigns and grassroots organizing. The FFC program for November 2 was a more robust effort than anything in the heyday of the Christian Coalition,” St. Martin told me.
These 4.5 million contacts included educational mail, get out the vote phone calls from Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee, e-mails, “door knocks,” and grassroots phone banks. Gov. Palin calls on behalf of FFC caught the eye of leftwing watchdogs like rightwingwatch.com as well as some mainstream media.
FFC’s efforts in Virginia were extraordinarily successful. Evangelicals made up 34 percent of the Virginia vote. 83 percent of that vote went to McDonnell, 48.6 percent of all his votes. In New Jersey, 27 percent of voters said they voted for the candidate who most shared their values. Those voters went for Christie by a 2 to 1 margin and comprised 1/3 of his vote. These are the same social and religious conservative voters that John McCain failed to rally in 2008 – because his campaign didn’t even try.
But the distinctive mark of FFC is not its confidence in the continued political power of the social conservative message, but its sophisticated use of technology. Reed has created a proprietary piece of software called VoterTrack that allows FFC members to enter their zip codes and receive all the names and phone numbers of socially conservative voters in the area. As a result, FFC chapters are being organized and are popping up on Facebook and other social networking sites.
As Jack St. Martin said to me, “We can be successful when we get serious about catching up with the political left by marrying technology to grassroots politics.” He admits that even FFC has a long way to go to catch up to what the Obama campaign put together in 2008, but they made up “a lot of ground in a short period of time.”
Some observers of Reed’s new Faith & Freedom Coalition are skeptical that he can replicate the historic success of the Christian Coalition. Some of his critics, however, have not noticed that FFC is not an updated version of the Christian Coalition. The fact that FFC has a Catholic executive director – and a Catholic convert to boot – is indicative of Reed’s intention to reach well beyond the Evangelical community.
Someone with Reed’s track record – not just as the head of the Christian Coalition but as Chairman of the Georgia GOP – should not be underestimated. As CBN’s David Brody puts it, “Something tells me that Ralph Reed and his group are poised to be major players. The key is always mobilization. Conservative Christians are numerous, but if they are non-existent at the ballot box then it doesn’t mean anything.”