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The Kingdom and the Clout Of Ralph Reed

The Christian Coalition took it on the chin when President Bush lost his reelection bid; now the group wields unprecedented power at all levels of politics

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Reed questions reports that gauge how many state GOPs are ''controlled'' by the Christian Coalition. He puts it his own way: ''Our movement is now in many ways thoroughly integrated and enmeshed into the machinery of the Republican Party. All this debate about the pro-life plank and the Specter-Buchanan debate is so much theater,'' he says, referring to conservative candidate Pat Buchanan, who takes a hard line against abortion.

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''The Republican Party is not going to retreat on those issues, because the party itself - the center of the party, the people who are the state chairmen and the county chairmen and the precinct captains - they are those people.''

Professor Green's research shows that about 25 percent of the adult population in the US is white evangelical Protestants. Of those, about 60 percent vote Republican. But that number could easily grow to 90 percent, Green says, just as 90 percent of blacks vote Democratic.

''Since 1990, the Christian right has been on a trajectory of bigger and better,'' he says. ''They have not reached their natural limit in terms of clout as voters.''

The Christian right's opponents are fighting the idea that religious conservatives have cornered the market on solutions to society's ailments. This week, the group People for the American Way released a survey by Peter D. Hart Research that showed the public rejects by large margins six planks of the Contract With the American Family, such as the proposal to eliminate federal funding of the arts and public broadcasting, and the proposal for a constitutional amendment on religious expression.

Of course, surveys on such complex matters may be influenced by how questions are asked. Reed remains unwaveringly confident that he's got the issues right.

Reed, who has a PhD in American history, sees the explosive growth of Christian politics as ''a slumbering giant awakened from its sleep'' - a sleep that began with the repeal of prohibition.

Reed the improbable

It is difficult to imagine Reed living a quiet life in academia, as he had planned. Though slight of build, he has a large voice and a skill for political tactics that has brought more than one presidential candidate knocking on his door. And though he still looks like a high school valedictorian delivering a commencement address when he speaks to a crowd, his young appearance has now become almost a trademark.

With a wife and three young children at home, he is also living many of the issues his movement is grappling with - the cost of raising children, schools, the culture. Reed thinks, for example, that it should be possible for spouses at home to put money in a tax-free retirement account, as if they were working outside the home.

On the question of whether mothers of young children should work outside the home, he calls it ''an individual decision that should be made by husbands and wives.'' For education, some families choose to home-school their kids, but Reed's only school-age child goes to a public school.

Then there's the Disney question. Some conservative Christian groups have complained that Disney movies either send subversive messages to children or are overtly offensive, in the case of films put out by Disney-owned Miramax.

What does Reed make of all this? ''I took my daughter to 'Pocahontas.' I mean, how is she going to be corrupted by that? So she learns that white European males were arrogant - they were!''

Reed has also shown he doesn't mind putting some more serious cash in Disney coffers: Last week he took his family on a pre-conference vacation - to Disney World.