Monday, July 31, 2006

NPR Details Ford's Historic Rise Through Southern Politics

Ford supporters, National Public Radio has done a great profile on Congressman Ford and his historic rise through politics here in Tennessee.

Below is their print article, followed by several comments from everyday Tennesseans regarding Congressman Ford and his bid for the U.S. Senate. A link to the full audio report then follows.

Harold Ford Jr. Walks the Line for Senate Seat

Congressman Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN) first turned heads in 2000 when he delivered the keynote at the Democratic National Convention.

Now the 36-year-old second-generation congressman is running for the Senate seat that Republican Bill Frist is vacating. But first he has to win the Aug. 3 primary.

Tennessee Republicans will choose their candidate Thursday. Ford is the presumptive Democratic nominee. If he wins, he'll be the first black Senator from the Old South since Reconstruction.

Ford's family is a political powerhouse. The Tennessee Fords have held office in Congress, the statehouse, and in city and county government for more than three decades.

But scandal has plagued the family's political success. Ford's father, former Congressman Harold Ford Sr., was indicted and acquitted on bank fraud charges; his Uncle Emmett was convicted of insurance fraud; his Aunt Ophelia got mixed up in a voting-fraud scandal and was removed from the state Senate, though she was not implicated; and his Uncle John, a former state senator, is set to go on trial just before the election this fall in a federal corruption case.

Ford challenges those who want to make his family an issue in his campaign.

" I love my family, and there's nothing that anybody can say to bring any distance between me and any member of my family," Ford says. "And I say to my opponents that if you have the recipe for picking family, send it to me. And if you don't, be quiet, lay out the issues, run for Senate."

Harold Ford Jr. is the first Ford from his generation to win public office. On the campaign trail, the 36-year-old exudes the confidence of a seasoned political veteran. You could say his political career dates back to 1974, when he was just four years old and his father was running for U.S. Congress.

But politics in Memphis have changed since Harold Ford Sr. became the first African-American Congressmen elected from Tennessee in 1974.

By the time Harold Ford Jr. ran for the Congressional seat in 1996, African-Americans were well on the way to becoming the political establishment in the predominantly black city.

"He had to present himself in a new way, and he did," says political analyst Michael Nelson. "He comes down here, he's extremely well-educated, extremely polished. He's actually quite conservative on issues."

Ford favors public display of the Ten Commandments, is for cutting federal spending and tightening border security. He voted to authorize the war in Iraq and to repeal the estate tax. These stances have put him at odds with some Democrats, fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and old-time family friends like Memphis Judge D'Armey Bailey.

On the campaign trail, Harold Ford Jr. makes no apologies for his record.

He has been courting the predominantly white, often Republican, voters that populate east and middle Tennessee through frequent appearances on conservative media outlets such as Fox News and the Don Imus show.

He would disagree that race is an underlying challenge to his campaign.

"I got a message, I got a set of values, and I got a set of ideas, and I'm just trying my hardest to convince enough people to vote for me," Ford says. "I don't subscribe to these paradigms of race and party and all that. Some people might -- maybe you, maybe some of your listeners -- but I don't."

Harold Ford Junior's strategy will be put to the test when the Republicans consolidate behind one candidate after Thursday's three-way primary.

On The Campaign Trail With Harold Ford, Jr.

  • Cindy Anderson is the owner of Summitville Grain and Feed Company, family-owned and operated since 1977. Anderson enjoys learning each customer's political stance, and says there are a lot of surprises. "The last election was pretty strong Republican, but I think due to gas prices and things it's getting harder to find the stronger Republicans."

  • Phillip Anderson's allegiance belongs to one of the most conservative Republicans now vying for the party nomination. Still, he likes some of the things Democrat Harold Ford Jr. stands for: "Now, he's kind of for what I'm for … he's for people having guns and stuff like that -- freedom. He sounds good to me." Anderson won't say who he'll vote for, though, if his candidate doesn't make it past Thursday's primary.

  • Friends gather for lunch at Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ in Memphis. Lee Ewing (left) is a senior in high school. He thinks Harold Ford Jr.'s rise is historic. "To think that an African-American from the South could actually be in the Senate. I mean, this is Tennesee. The place Dr. King took his last breath, riots in '68. I mean, all types of things. I think it'll be good, though, especially for Tennessee and for the South in general."

To listen to NPR's full report on Congressman Ford and his historic run for the U.S. Senate, please click here!