Monday, July 24, 2006

No One Could Call Candidate Harold Ford Jr. A Shy Man

If you have ever had the chance to speak with Congressman Ford or attend one of his events, you would know just what the following article is talking about.

Our next Senator, is indeed one-of-a-kind:

George Webb shakes his head at the phone calls his Little Rebel tavern gets these days, none looking for a takeout order.

"We've been in The New York Times. The Washington Post called the other day, and the Los Angeles Times ... it's crazy," said Webb as he stood behind the bar and tended to the roast beef.

All because the bar on Airways Boulevard in Jackson has become a touchstone in Harold Ford Jr.'s campaign to become the first Democratic senator elected in Tennessee since 1990, and though Ford downplays this, the state's first black senator.

"We're leaving a speech, and we pass the Little Rebel and I tell my guys to stop," Ford said. "They look at me like I'm nuts, and I tell them to keep the car running in case. But I go into the bar, tell people I'm Harold Ford Jr., and I'm running for senate. This lady at the bar gives me a hug and says, 'Baby, we've been waiting for you.' "

Webb said Ford has been back two or three times. His sticker flanks a Dale Earnhardt sticker and a David Woolfork for sheriff sticker on a refrigerator.

"Nice guy, friendly," said Webb, who won't say who he'll vote for. "He's a trip."

Matt Reel, Ford's campaign driver, said, "I think that one night gave him a lot of confidence. He's not afraid to go anywhere and talk to anyone."

Ford isn't shy. If it's a lady in a rocking chair waiting for a prescription, or morning talk shows, or a group of activists or churchgoers, Ford goes in, gaze steady, smile in place and hand out. He will talk no matter how the conversation goes.

He learned from his father. Harold Ford Sr. dominated the Memphis political landscape for two decades before his son took over the Ninth District congressional seat at 25, just out of law school.

"Dad believed you started at 5, went to 10:30 at night and could not touch, see or listen to enough voters," Ford Jr. said.

Former Gov. Ned McWherter said the candidate is a "brilliant young man who has big differences with his father, because his life circumstances are different."

Ford spent as much time in Washington as Memphis, went to an Ivy League school (Pennsylvania) and then Michigan Law School. That background hurt Al Gore Jr. when he ran for president in 2000.

But Ford says, "I love home, but if I'd been there all the time I would have been Harold Ford's son. This allowed me to find my own way."

Richard Chesteen, a political science professor at UT Martin, saidstyle was one reason why Ford didn't take much heat as a manager for Gore's 2000 loss to George W. Bush in Tennessee.

"Al never was able to make the old core of the Democratic party feel comfortable with him," Chesteen said. "Ford doesn't have that problem."

In many areas, Ford leans more to the center than his father, of whom he says "we have policy disagreements."

Though Ford Jr. raised hackles by calling the GOP primary donnybrook "The Three Stooges," Chesteen said, "He doesn't shoot from the hip like his father or uncle."

Watching Ford's campaign can blur vision. Everyone in his group works the BlackBerry and cell phone at top speed. But no one can outdraw the boss's left thumb on the mini-keyboard.

Ford works a morning talk show in Chattanooga, Imus in the Morning or Hardball with equal ease.

GOP opponent Ed Bryant questions how a 36-year-old who went from law school straight to Congress "has the life experience and wisdom (for the Senate) ... but he'd be great on television on one of those shows. He's really good." Ford is equally busy fund raising, amassing a $7.3 million war chest as of early July, compared to $6.6 million for Corker before he pumped $1.7 million of his own money into his race this week. Bryant and Hilleary are at around $2.3 million.

Much of Ford's money came from out of state, including donations from a fund-raiser at the home of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, a sure issue in November.

"My Republican opponents are working the same halls," Ford said. "This race will take money, and if we could raise it on Mars, we'd do it. We're in this to win."

Black, white, Democrat, Republican, young, and old--Congressman Ford appeals to everyone.

His message of change and his vision of making government work for everyone, is really resonating with voters all across this state.

Folks are ready for the bold, new leadership that Congressman Ford represents.

He really is Tennessee's "Hope"!