On the eve of primary voting, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. challenged the winner of today's Republican Senate primary to a series of debates across the state.
"I'll meet 'em in Chattanooga, I'll meet 'em in Murfreesboro, I'll meet 'em in Jackson," Ford, the presumptive Democratic nominee, told more than 200 delirious supporters Wednesday at a fund-raiser in the lobby of the historic Tennessee Theatre.
Afterward, as he left the building to return to Memphis, Ford said he hopes the Republican nominee - Ed Bryant, Bob Corker or Van Hilleary - will take the high road after their bitter GOP primary battle.
"I hope it's positive, I hope it's constructive, I hope it's serious," he said, "because these are serious times."
During his brief remarks, delivered from a landing on the grand staircase in the landmark theater, Ford repeated his theme of entrusting the Senate to a new generation of leadership.
"If ever there was a time the world needed America to be big, to lead, now is that time," Ford said.
Gov. Phil Bredesen joined Ford for the event. Bredesen said he has forged a strong working relationship with Ford, who has represented Memphis in the House of Representatives for the past decade.
"This is a team that has found great ways to work together," Bredesen said. "Having Harold Ford as a partner in the Senate can do wonderful things for our state."
Bredesen's likely opponent in November will be state Sen. Jim Bryson, R-Franklin. Democrats said having Bredesen on the ballot should boost Ford's chances.
Bill Owen, a former legislator who is East Tennessee's representative on the Democratic National Committee, said Bredesen's popularity - two of three registered voters in a recent University of Tennessee poll approved of his performance - should help Ford pick up votes against any of the three Republicans.
"I think it will help tremendously," Owen said.
Supporters paid $150 to $5,000 to meet with Ford, who spent about half an hour shaking hands, signing hand-held fans and posing for photographs. Because the race will be key in determining which party will control the Senate, Ford's candidacy has received national attention.
Former President Bill Clinton will join Ford for an event in Nashville this evening, possibly stealing a big part of the media spotlight that would otherwise go to the acrimonious GOP contest.
Some of the Democrats in attendance said a Republican party bloodied by infighting can only help Ford's chances.
"I love it that they're beating up on each other," said Sylvia Woods, a longtime union and Democratic activist. "I hope they still hate each other after the primary."
State Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, said many of his Republican friends have told him they plan to vote for Ford if their favorite doesn't win in the GOP primary.
"I think it's Harold's to lose right now, the way the Republicans have gone after each other," Armstrong said.
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel