Washington Prowler

The New Ralph Reed

A huge winner in Election 2002 learns to wait his turn. Plus: John Edwards -- in the footsteps of Henry James.

By 11.13.02

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MODEL PATIENCE
Fresh from an amazing GOP sweep in Georgia, which saw Republicans win a Senate seat, two House seats, and the governorship, the state's Republican Party chairman Ralph Reed would probably love to capitalize by claiming a high profile political position in Washington. If this were a few years ago, you'd probably be hearing unnamed sources touting him for everything from head of the Republican National Committee to White House political director. But not now.

"Ralph had great political sense back when he was running the Christian Coalition, but I think even he would say he maybe wanted a bit too much too soon," says a political ally of Reed's in Washington.

That was true even after Reed moved back down to Georgia in 1998. He arrived in Atlanta touting his new political consulting group, looking to have a big impact in Dixie politics -- and flamed out. His candidates rarely succeeded. Then Reed was dragged into the Enron mess, after it was leaked he'd played on his Bush contacts to pursue consulting jobs from Enron in its heyday.

"It wasn't like he was isolated down there in Georgia. That's where he wanted to be," says the Reed ally. "But you have to know that his running the table for the GOP down there last week has just confirmed what everyone thought he was going to do a few years ago."

Reed, in fact, used the Karl Rove model to build the Georgia sweep, working with the White House to find winners, not necessarily dyed in the wool, but unelectable, conservatives.

If Reed wants to build on that success, however, he will probably have to do it from Atlanta -- for now. He will probably serve an additional two years as head of the Georgia party before making a move on his own. As it stands, there isn't much of an opportunity for him in Washington. Bush strategist and key fundraiser Jack Oliver likely will remain running day to day operations at the RNC, particularly given his own success in the 2002 races.

Some say Reed may eventually take a shot at elective office. But the next big-ticket race is 2004, when Sen. Zell Miller comes up for re-election. Miller is probably unbeatable in that race, although he could surprise some and choose not to run for another term. Recall that Miller initially balked at coming out of retirement to serve out the term of the late Paul Coverdell back in 2000. Of course, Miller could block any Reed challenge by simply walking across the aisle as many Republicans -- and probably a few liberal Democrats -- wish he would.

"Reed can afford to wait," says the ally. "He's in a great position and he knows it."

INNOCENCE ABROAD
Sen. John Edwards is hitting the campaign trail hard, now that it appears the opportunity is ripe for his presidential candidacy. Earlier this week he made a high profile policy speech on the economy, and because his background is so thin on foreign affairs he's also taking his show overseas.

Edwards staffers recall how their boss traveled to Israel two summers ago for photo-ops and to get a handle on the Middle East situation. Last winter he traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now in early December, Edwards will travel to Europe.

The planned itinerary calls for him to meet with NATO officials to discuss Iraq. He also hopes to meet with government leaders. According to an Edwards campaign staffer, the now-senior senator from North Carolina asked his sometime adviser, former President Bill Clinton, to make calls on his behalf to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to see if they might meet with him.

It won't just be Edwards in the rooms with them. He's bringing along an all-access video crew to shoot much of his trip. "The idea is that some of those shots will be used for campaign ads down the road to blunt Republican criticism that he's not plugged in enough on the international front," says the staffer.

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