Sunday, July 31, 2005

Harold Ford Jr. Urges Democratic Unity

U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. declared unity Saturday with the new leadership of the local Democratic party, a week after a hard-fought county party convention.

The convention, which Ford didn't attend, mirrored a debate Democrats are having nationally about the direction of the party.

It was also the most public airing yet of discontent among Ford's political base of operations as he runs for the 2006 Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.

But Saturday, Ford and local party chairman Matt Kuhn urged local Democrats to stop the bickering and focus on winning elections next year.

Ford also mounted a sharply worded defense of his support of Bush administration policy in Iraq.

"I don't have the luxury of sitting back and writing about it. I don't have the luxury of sitting back and hoping that it goes right," Ford told the group of over 150 at Cafe Francisco in Downtown Memphis.

"As painful as it may sound to some, I'm rooting between now and next November for George Bush to get it right -- for one reason -- there are 1,800 kids dead over there. If there's a way to figure out an answer to that problem, I want it figured out. We'll figure out how to beat him another way."

The July 23 convention included Democrats who got involved because of their concern that Ford has been too supportive of the Bush administration on the war and issues like the tough new bankruptcy law.

"For us to win, the screaming and the yelling, particularly at one another, is not going to do any good. The screaming and the yelling, even at them, won't produce a victory," Ford said. "If we're serious about winning, then we have to come up with real, viable answers to problems."

Some of the critics were in Saturday's crowd. But several gladly accepted Ford's offer after the meeting to let him put his campaign bumper stickers on their cars.

Steve Steffens, a critic whose blog site, left, has served as an intra-party battleground, said Saturday's speech and Ford's vote last week against the White House-favored Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) blunted some of the criticism.

"I think we kind of felt like he'd been off in the rest of the state and he'd kind of forgotten about us," Steffens said. "But with the vote on CAFTA and this, it shows that he hasn't forgotten us and he wants to bring us together."

Kuhn, who wasn't the candidate Ford backed for the chairmanship, endorsed Ford's Senate bid. Ford faces state Sen. Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville in the primary.

"I've been accused of being a Herenton man. Well, I hope that's an accusation that's true, because I am," Kuhn said. "I've been accused of doing anything Harold Ford Jr. wants me to do. Guess what? I'm going to."

From: The Memphis Commercial Appeal