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Ralph Reed Mobilizing Evangelicals in Ohio

by Peter Hamby, CNN Political Reporter

WASHINGTON (CNN)—Conservative Christian activist Ralph Reed is marshalling his forces in Ohio as the battleground state takes center stage in final week of the presidential race.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition, the Atlanta-based organization Reed launched in 2009 to mobilize voters of faith around the country, is placing more than one million voter guides in 5,300 Ohio churches and plans to complete the effort on the final Sunday before Election Day.

Dropping literature in churches is just one element of a robust closing drive in Ohio to raise evangelical and Catholic awareness of the “cultural issues” at stake in the campaign, Reed told CNN in a phone interview.

“It’s a major push,” Reed said of the Ohio effort. “We’re all in.”

Faith and Freedom “Strike Force” volunteers and paid callers will unleash a get-out-the-vote phone blitz beginning Tuesday, a week before Election Day, he said.

In all, the group plans to touch almost nine million Ohio voters through a combination of church guides, door knocks, live operator phone calls and three batches of direct mail taking aim the president.

Reed’s organization boasts a database of roughly 17.1 million evangelicals in battleground states around the country.

He declined to say how many of those voters are in Ohio, but he said Faith and Freedom is training its sights on not just Protestant evangelicals but also church-going Catholics in a bid to cut into Obama’s support among white, working class Democrats in northeast Ohio.

In 2008, roughly 30 percent of Ohio voters described themselves as evangelical or born again Christians. About 23 percent identified as Catholic, and Reed estimated that about half of those Ohio Catholics regularly attend Mass.

“We think a lot of this stuff didn’t come up during the campaign,” Reed said of the issues his organization is highlighting. “Whether it’s the marriage issue, abortion, the religious charity mandate, support for Israel, we sort of lay that stuff out there and let them see where the candidates stand.”

The voter guides being provided to churches describe, in simple “yes” or “no” fashion, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney’s positions on a range of issues, both social and fiscal.

Obama, the guides say, favors “Abortion On Demand” and “Mandated Contraception Coverage By Religious Charities,” while Romney is said to oppose same-sex marriage and favor repealing Obamacare.

Reed made a point of saying that the church literature and mail pieces are highlighting fiscal issues like jobs and taxes along with hot button social issues. “It’s an equal mix,” he said.

He said the Obama campaign’s late effort to bolster support among suburban women by focusing on issues like abortion and contraception could potentially backfire by motivating the conservative faithful.

“You take something like this, the Girls actress video,” he said, referring to a suggestive pro-Obama YouTube video cut by Girls actress Lena Dunham, “and that’s not terribly helpful to them. It will cut into their margin of defeat among voters of faith.”

Reed’s group is running similar voter contact activities in every presidential battleground, including the potentially pivotal states of Iowa and Wisconsin.

But the longtime political operative and former Christian Coalition heavyweight, who was deeply involved in George W. Bush’s 2004 tight win in Ohio, agreed with the hardening conventional wisdom that the Buckeye State will ultimately sway the election.

“Everybody understands what’s on the line,” he said. “Outside organizations like ours were already planning on coming here pretty significantly and once Romney surged after the first debate, in our case, after that, we moved as many resources as we possibly could to Ohio.”

“My sense is that Romney is catching up and closing,” he added. “The question is, did he close with enough time left? Or is too little, too late?”

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