Monday, June 12, 2006

It's A Long Road To Washington For Ford

Below is a good article about Congressman Ford and his campaign for the United States Senate from the Knoxville News Sentinel:

The shadows beneath Harold Ford Jr.'s eyes at this week's Pancakes and Politics speakers' forum in Memphis said it all.

More than 43 cities in 72 days (and that's just Tennessee stops), 142 radio interviews since April 1, as well as appearances on "Imus in the Morning," Bloomberg TV, "Squawkbox" and "Hardball." With less than six months until the general election, the Memphis congressman may be tired, but he shows no sign of slowing.

He can't afford to. He's a self-described underdog U.S. Senate candidate in a race that could tip the balance of congressional power back toward the Democratic Party.

"There's nothing mysterious or magical about it," Ford said. "We don't have a national strategy. We have a strategy to win this campaign for the U.S. Senate."

Whether by design or default, Ford's popularity on the national stage may prove just the bit of kismet the Democratic Party needs to give it extra footing in this year's midterm elections.

In November, there will be 33 Senate seats and 435 House seats on the ballot, including that of Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Democrats would need to gain six Senate and 15 House seats to win a majority.

Heading into the election season, the Republican Party faced an electorate weary of lobbying scandals, the indictment of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, President Bush's plummeting approval rating, decreased support for the war in Iraq, and concerns about increased government spending. Both Republicans and Democrats are aware that winning open seat races, like the one in Tennessee, is a key piece of the battle for congressional control.

"Tennessee could very well be the seat that shifts the balance to the Democrats," said Phil Singer, a representative of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The Democratic Party is hoping that a Ford win will prove a chink in an otherwise red wall of Southern states. They hope Ford, a party moderate who President Bush calls "Fordy," will score points with a variety of groups, including disgruntled Republicans, Reagan Democrats and independent voters.

"He's a guy that can get beyond partisan politics and get things done," said Mark Brown, communications director for the state's Democratic Party. "This is a seat we can pick up."

It won't be easy.

Ford is an East Coast-educated, black Democrat from an embattled political family trying to become the first black elected senator in a red state.

And while Al Gore was successful in his House and Senate bids, he was unable to carry the state during his 2000 presidential election bid. President Bush netted a sweeping victory here in 2004.

"What excites the nation's liberals is not the same thing that will excite the voters in Tennessee," said Dan Ronayne, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "Ford runs a risk of being looked at as Gore was - more Washington, D.C., than Tennessee."

The Ford campaign is aided in part by his appearances in national media and money from out-of-state contributors.

Ford is a frequent guest on such shows as MSNBC's "Imus" and "Hardball" where he's discussed everything from alternative energy sources to the war in Iraq. He's also appeared on CNN, Fox, the pages of Newsweek, The New York Times and Atlantic Monthly.

Roughly 59 percent of Ford's $3.75 million individual campaign contributions was raised outside Tennessee, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, an organization that examines campaign finances. Ford's contributors include Donald Trump, Motown founder Berry Gordy and composer Quincy Jones.

Senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton will host a $1,000-per-person fund-raiser for Ford at her Washington home this week.

"It isn't unusual for a Senate candidate to seek campaign funds from out of state, once they have won their party's primary - which, of course, is no longer a concern for Ford," said Paige Schneider, a political science professor at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. "In particular, candidates running in a state where their party is in the minority - and such is the case with the Democrats in Tennessee - will often have to look beyond local sources of funding to amass the campaign chest that they will need to be competitive."

Despite generous funding and numerous national media appearances, Ford said he sees himself as an underdog in this race. The state's strong Republican voting history would seem to support his opinion.

Republicans and Democrats point out, however, that Ford's die-hard campaigning and charisma may go quite a way toward winning over Tennessee voters.

"You can't count his candidacy lightly," said Chris Devaney, executive director for the state's Republican Party.

Ford and staffers often describe how well he has been received across the state at rallies, high schools and even restaurants that fly the Confederate battle flag. People identify with his message of a "new generation of leadership" that will reach across party lines to lower high energy and fuel costs and huge deficits, while improving education, veterans' benefits and health-care benefits, Ford said.

On a recent swing through counties along the Tennessee-Kentucky border that staffers described as "rural and white," locals would shake Ford's hand, saying, "I saw you on TV."

Ford even took a spin around the Bristol Motor Speedway in a NASCAR pace car in April, cruising at just under 70 mph, according to Newsweek. "I'm from the western part of the state," he told the gathering. "We race trucks."

"Harold Ford Jr. is certainly a media darling," Devaney said. "He's well spoken and charming. Will that get him elected in Tennessee? I don't think so. He needs to spend less time in national media and more time in Tennessee."

Between time on the Hill, radio and TV and crisscrossing the state, Ford and his supporters are keeping close tabs on the fallout from a three-way GOP primary. Former Congressmen Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary and former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker are "bloodying themselves up ... airing their dirty laundry" for the right to take Ford on in the fall, said Brown.

Though Ford's camp occasionally weighs in, for the most part, staffers are focused on keeping his war chest stocked and his profile high.

"The outcome of the Republican primary could be the single most important factor determining Ford's political future," Schneider said. "Neither Hillary Clinton or any other powerful Democrat can do much to help Ford on that one."

159 Days

Days of Congressional Inaction on Ethics

Above is the number of days that have passed since Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to bribing Congressman.

It is also the number of days in which Congress has failed to pass an ethics reform bill that would limit private travel, ski and golf junkets, and would call for a full disclosure of expenses by lobbyists on members of Congress.

It is time for Congress to step up and pass an ethics reform bill that would do all of the above. In addition, it is time to end the pork barrel spending system as we know it and establish an independent ethics commission that would review ethics complaints against members of Congress.

I am proud Congressman Harold Ford Jr. is fighting for that reform!

Read Congressman Ford's call for reform of the House rules here!