ATLANTA — State Sen. Casey Cagle has been attacked with what he calls “outright lies” in a barrage of TV ads from Ralph Reed, his rival in the July 18 Republican primary for lieutenant governor of Georgia.
Yesterday, the Cagle campaign fired back with what one Republican called a potential “hydrogen bomb”: a TV ad tying Mr. Reed to the Jack Abramoff scandal.
“We see this as a question about the future of the Republican Party,” Cagle spokesman Brad Alexander said as the campaign prepared to air ads highlighting Mr. Reed’s work as a consultant to Abramoff’s lobbying on behalf of gambling interests.
With Mr. Reed still leading in a poll taken last week, the question for some Republicans is whether the Cagle counterattack is too little, too late in a David-and-Goliath battle against the former Christian Coalition director.
It was a mistake for the Cagle campaign to wait so long to call attention to Mr. Reed’s connection to Abramoff, said Georgia pollster Matt Towery.
Mr. Cagle’s first round of TV ads — focusing on the candidate’s 12 years of experience as a conservative leader in the state Senate — were “a waste of money … that did not penetrate,” said Mr. Towery, whose latest InsiderAdvantage poll shows Mr. Reed leading by five percentage points.
“If [Mr. Cagle] had attacked, he would have gotten massive media coverage,” said Mr. Towery, who was a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 1990.
Polls show a high percentage of undecided voters in the Reed-Cagle contest with just two weeks remaining until the primary.
Mr. Reed has 32 percent to Mr. Cagle’s 27 percent in the poll that Mr. Towery’s firm took last Tuesday and Wednesday, with 41 percent undecided. The poll of 500 likely Republican primary voters has a margin of error of four percentage points.
The candidacy of Mr. Reed, seeking his first elective office, has brought national attention to this down-ticket contest, flying in former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani for a May fundraiser.
Mr. Reed began the TV “air war” with ads accusing Mr. Cagle of opposing property rights, an important issue to conservatives in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court decision in the Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., eminent-domain case.
Mr. Cagle — who supported legislation intended to protect private-property owners from the types of eminent-domain seizures permitted by the Kelo decision — says the Reed ads are “completely false.”
“I’m getting tired of him telling lies,” Mr. Cagle told supporters Sunday at a meeting in suburban Henry County, south of Atlanta. “But that’s all he’s got left.”
The new Cagle TV ad shows a deck of cards being dealt as an announcer says, “Reed said gambling is ‘immoral,’ but took millions of dollars from convicted felon Jack Abramoff to help casinos. He supported Internet gambling, attacked conservative Republicans who opposed him, and funneled his pay through nonprofits to hide it.”
“After two years of investigation, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs confirmed that Ralph has been accused of no wrongdoing,” replied Lisa Baron, Reed campaign communications director. “Casey Cagle’s campaign of false attacks and unfair guilt by association is a desperate attempt to distract voters from his own ethical conflicts in voting to benefit banks while he ran a bank and his failure to pay his taxes while chairing the Senate Finance Committee.”
Political analysts expected that Mr. Reed, who gained national renown as a “family values” activist, would lose support among evangelical Christian voters — a major Republican constituency in Georgia — in the wake of the Abramoff lobbying scandal.
But the numbers suggest that the Abramoff scandal has yet to seriously erode support for Mr. Reed, a former Georgia Republican chairman and campaign consultant to President Bush, Mr. Towery said.
“Hard-core Republicans, the only thing that will turn them around is if they think [Mr. Reed’s Abramoff ties are] a threat to the Republican ticket,” Mr. Towery said.