Two well-known and controversial political figures struggled in Georgia elections yesterday. Lobbyist and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed lost in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor. Six-term Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney failed to capture 50 percent of the vote in her bid for renomination. She'll have to face the second place finisher, a former county commissioner, in an August runoff. Mixed Signals is turning to NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin to sort out the results.
Mixed Signals: Georgia is a pretty conservative state and Reed has a lot more name recognition than his opponent. Why did he lose?
Ken Rudin: Ralph Reed had everything going for him. Excellent contacts. A squeaky-clean image. A record of success in making the Georgia Republican Party become the dominant force in the state. Under his leadership, Georgia Republicans have a governor for the first time since Reconstruction, and hold both U.S. Senate seats as well as both houses of the state legislature.
But his relationship with Jack Abramoff is what did him in. It's a relationship that goes back a long way, when both were in the College Young Republicans. Abramoff sent millions of dollars Reed's way for the express purpose of having him lobby against expanding Indian gambling casinos in the South. That's all well and good, considering that Reed's cultural conservative base opposes gambling. However, it has since come out that the money from Abramoff to Reed came from gambling interests that Abramoff represented — he didn't want the competition — and that was the beginning of the end for Reed. (Not to mention the fact that Abramoff has already pleaded guilty as part of a larger bribery conspiracy case.) Reed's heretofore unheard of primary opponent, state Sen.Casey Cagle, challenged Reed's ethics, and won a convincing 56 percent victory yesterday.
Mixed Signals: Incumbents like McKinney don't usually get forced into primary runoffs. What happened there?
Ken Rudin: Cynthia McKinney is no stranger to controversy; some would call her a "piece of work." Four years ago, she implied that President Bush had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks; that comment helped defeat her in the 2002 Democratic primary (she won the seat back two years later). In March, she allegedly struck a Capitol Hill police officer with her cell phone when he tried to stop her from bypassing a security check at a congressional office building. She called the officer's actions "racial profiling."
McKinney is a strong advocate for liberal and minority causes and she doesn't back down from a fight. At the same time, she is also an act that may be wearing thin with some of her constituents and that's apparently why she failed to get a majority of the vote in yesterday's primary. She has been forced into an Aug. 8 runoff with Hank Johnson, a former county commissioner, who, like McKinney, is also African-American.