Friday, August 19, 2005

Congressman Ford Laps Kurita In Fundraising

If dollars were votes, the race for the Democratic nomination in Tennessee's 2006 Senate race would be over.

Rep. Harold Ford Jr. isn't just out-raising state Sen. Rosalind Kurita, he's swamping her 5 to 1.

In the first six months of 2005, Ford raised $1.58 million compared to $309,000 for Kurita, a Clarksville nurse, according to Federal Elections Commission records. In the second quarter, Kurita raised just $54,000, and adding to a sense of turmoil, her campaign manager, Kimberly Wood, recently resigned.

The huge financial disparity, combined with Ford's name recognition and his early television ads, helped create an air of inevitability about his nomination.

But dollars, while telling, are not the same as votes and Kurita may have pumped energy into her flagging campaign with an advertising strategy that placed her message on newspaper Web sites and on political blogs around the country in recent weeks.

The ads, which invite voters to replace Republican senator and Senate majority leader Dr. Bill Frist with "this Democratic nurse," have generated buzz and discussion on political Web sites favored by Democrats.

"The race is probably still Ford's to lose, but I would not be surprised to see Kurita start putting up some serious numbers," opined blogger Scott Shields at the site

"Her embracing of a netroots campaign, coupled with her outspoken positions on issues like the bankruptcy and energy bills, could make her an attractive alternative to the 'centrist' Ford, who supported both. This race is certainly worthy of some serious attention."

By focusing on Frist, the ads are pitched at a national audience, said Justin Monday, Kurita's campaign services director, who said the ads have resulted in contributions from 22 states.

"Not everyone knows about Tennessee, but everyone knows about Bill Frist," Monday said.

Even Ford campaign manager Jim Hester acknowledges it's a shrewd use of limited dollars.

It's not clear, however, if the ads will generate much revenue or if the sites' liberal readers are likely to stick with the more conservative Kurita.

"Her positions are not likely to appeal to the people who are motivated by that sort of (Internet) campaign," said Hester, the Tennessee Democratic Party's former executive director.

Indeed, on a number of blogs, chat room participants express dismay when they hear Kurita's positions on same-sex marriage (she's against it) and guns (she likes them).

Much of her support may be more a reflection of the disillusionment with Ford on the left than genuine enthusiasm for Kurita, who has yet to distinguish herself, said Rhodes College political scientist Marcus Pohlmann.

"(Her campaign) presumes that even if you raise a lot of money, that there is a constituency out there that is persuadable for you than for Congressman Ford," Pohlmann said. "I'm not sure if there is or not."

Kurita's campaign won't disclose how much they've raised online (and they're not required to until next month), but a spokesman said they're pleased enough to try it again.

Meanwhile, Ford is campaigning at a furious pace, with dozens of events, fund-raisers and appearances packed into his summer recess.

Most of his appearances are in Middle and East Tennessee, where Ford is less of a known commodity, Hester said.

"We have to introduce him around the state," he said.

The fund-raising numbers bear that out. Of the $612,528 Ford has raised from individual donors in Tennessee, three- quarters of that came between Memphis and Jackson.

Or, put another way, he's raised more money in New York City ($107,300) and Washington and its suburbs ($119,275) than in Nashville and its suburbs ($92,649).

That should change, Hester said, as the campaign begins aggressively courting Chattanooga and Knoxville donors.

With Frist's seat opening, many expect the race for the general election to be one of the more closely watched contests in the country.

That will likely mean money pouring in from both sides. Hester said the campaign needs $12 million to beat the Republican nominee.

So far, so good, he said. "We're definitely on track," he said.

From: The Commercial Appeal