Thursday, July 28, 2005

Penn Alumnus Throws Hat In Senate Ring

This time next year, Penn alumnus and congressman Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) will know if he is one step closer to his goal of representing his state in the U.S. Senate.

Ford -- who graduated from the University with a degree in American history in 1992 -- will battle Tennessee State Senator Rosalind Kurita in the Democratic primary on August 3, 2006. The winner will go on to campaign for the seat, which is being vacated by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who has decided not to run for re-election.

As a member of the Blue Dog Coalition -- a group of moderate and fiscally conservative Democrats -- Ford hopes to distinguish himself as a more moderate alternative to Kurita.

According to Political Science professor Jack Nagel, such a distinction will be favorable for Ford, as Republicans have held the southern state's Senate seats for the past two terms.

"He has consistently taken more centrist positions. ... It strategically situates him better to make a race in statewide contests," said Nagel, who is also associate dean for graduate studies in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Ford "has taken policy positions that should give him a broader base," Nagel added.

Chris Patusky, executive director of the Fels Institute of Government at Penn, echoed Nagel's optimism.

Ford "stands out as a Blue Dog Democrat. He's able to both hold onto his core Democratic principles while working with Republicans on common interests," Patusky said.

"There are very few people who can do that these days," he added.

While Ford's youth could be considered a liability -- he is 35 -- he has nearly five terms in Congress under his belt and is part of a political dynasty of sorts, as his father held the same seat -- representing Tennessee's Ninth Congressional District -- that his son now holds for 22 years, and the younger Ford has several uncles and cousins in local office.

However, Ford's family ties set him back a bit when, the day after he officially announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat, his state-senator uncle was indicted on federal corruption charges.

"I'm confident the voters will judge me for who I am and what I believe," Ford told The Tennessean.

"The final outcome of the campaign will not be affected by what anyone else has or has not done," he added.

Still, Ford's own resume is impressive. He delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2000 and served as a national campaign co-chairman for Sen. John Kerry's presidential run in 2004.

Among his priority issues for this campaign, Ford cites national security, dependence on foreign oil and public schools.

If elected, Ford would be the first African-American to go to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee and only the fourth nationally.

Although the state of Tennessee is only 16 percent black, Nagel believes Ford can surmount such a challenge.

"For an African-American to win a statewide race, particularly in a Southern state, is an uphill struggle, but he is certainly one of the most promising candidates for that," Nagel said.

Ford himself seems unfazed by the possible obstacle.

"I think voters trust in who I am and what I believe in. My polling shows I can do it. I've prayed on this, and the answer to my prayers is that it can be done," Ford said.

Patusky is confident that Ford's morals and convictions will help see him through this election.

Ford has met with students at the Fels Institute of Government regularly for the past few years.

"Students have found him to be a great speaker," Patusky said. "He's a really good role model for students."
Patusky continued, "He's got all of the political skills, and he's got strong principles as well."

From: The Daily Pennsylvanian