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The Tennessee Senate 2006 Race

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It’s an unfortunate fact of the race to fill the Tennessee Senate seat for retiring Bill Frist that Tennesseans will be deluged, smothered, with stories about Representative Harold Ford, Jr. He has nearly no chance of winning, barring a surprise screw-up which, with Tennessee Republicans, should never be discounted. After all, even with a majority in the State Senate they still couldn’t elect one of their own as Lt. Governor. But Ford has two facts on his side. He has a national presence and reputation, which (like Frist) makes him the subject of lots of “hometown boy makes good” stories. And, he’s a Democrat. The state’s newspapers are still filled with unbending Democratic editorialists and reporters who view Ford as their next great hope in stemming Tennessee’s still-rising Republican tide. It matters not at all how the Republicans conduct their campaign, nor how magnetic their final candidate is (ha!), Ford will dominate the coverage. It doesn’t matter how far ahead his opponent is, and he will be every step of the way; Ford will dominate. It doesn’t matter who wins, Ford will get sympathetic post-election coverage that will focus on his “gracious in defeat” manner or his “surprising” showing. These are the facts in Tennessee. Democrats who do well nationally get nearly sycophantic press coverage; successful Republicans are deferred to and respected but do not receive the same style of treatment.

For those without much time, or interest at this point, you can read this brief roundup of the landscape from the Memphis Commercial Appeal. (Registration required.)

But Harold Ford, Jr. will lose. So let’s get him out of the way. Harold Ford is the presumptive nominee on the Democratic side. He has the national reputation and a career in the House that give him that all-important edge over any State-level competitor. He’s a rising star among the national Democratic leadership, and a would-be heir both to the star power of Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Committee’s fading legacy.

He’s one of a coming breed of post-Civil Rights Era black politicians. He is a black candidate acceptable, and even attractive, to a lot of whites; able to speak the bland pieties of politics without recourse to black cadences like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Ford can “be black” without having to play the race card. He doesn’t automatically cause white liberal guilt meters to twitch with his merest utterances.

On the state level, however, he is still a Ford. Their behavior has filled newspaper pages and television screens for decades. His uncle John, the legendary State Senator who lives his life like an armed and dangerous 19th Century Mormon, and his father Harold, Sr. who after financial scandals bequeathed his seat to his son in a dynastic display worthy of a Kennedy, have created lasting memories on Tennesseans. Add to that the less-well known Memphis City Council Fords and other local relatives, and you have an extended family whose whiff is deeply unpleasant to many Tennesseans; even some Democrats will curl their lip at the mention of the Ford name. Whatever national cachet he possesses will always lose some of its potency inside the state because of that. Nationally, the press seems little interested in the connections, but in the heat of a high-profile, do-or-die (for Democrats) Senate race that may change.

That’s partly why the Republicans are making so much hay of Senator John Ford’s latest shenanigans with regards to his multiple-partner, multi-home, settling child support in court, family life. It has nothing to do with Harold, but it makes the Fords look sleazy. Republicans hope some of that slime will spatter Harold. In morality-conscious Tennessee, that will cost votes. The more-legitimate questions of John’s residency (which I predict the State Senate will ignore, as it affects too many other politicians) and the questionable ethics of his financial connections to TennCare and Children’s Services (which the Feds may have to pursue) will serve to keep the Ford name in the press much longer as investigations are called for, deflected, debated, started and dragged out.

There’s also the fact that Ford’s state power base derives almost entirely from two places: Shelby County, specifically Memphis, where he’s unassailable, and in the capital in Nashville, where it’s mostly admiration for his political skills. There are still some thin areas in the counties in between where he can count on votes, but Middle and East Tennessee are solidly Republican. Were his home district not equally solidly black and Democratic, he’d have to devote more energy to shoring up that base, making him a far less viable contender. On the flip side, his ability to make inroads is severely cramped.

So we have State Senator Rosalind Kurita throwing in her name against Ford in the Democratic primary. Her advantage is that she’s not a Ford. She’s also well-regarded elsewhere in the state. Her problem is the opposite of Ford’s: she will make almost no ground in Shelby County and without that she can’t come close to winning her party’s nomination. Just on raw numbers, she has no chance.

Ford also has another problem: a significant part of his power is his national reputation, on which he has become dependent. With the national party in severe flux following a decade of losing election cycles, he finds himself having to defend his Clinton/DLC tactics against a leadership falling under the sway of the Howard Dean / MoveOn.org / antiwar, anti-America Left. Moderates and centrists are being thinned out, made to toe the line, in order to draw sharper distinctions against Republicans. Ford’s co-optation instincts are frowned upon.

The Ford campaign began, for the state press and for all practical purposes, with this article, adulatory but honest, from the alt-weekly Nashville Scene, back in March of 2004! Looking back from the Demcrats’ post-2004 turmoil and struggle, it’s eerily prescient to read this:

Sounds like a pretty good formula, but this kind of thing doesn’t sit well with people like Nikki Courtney, popular morning show personality on WMAK 96.3-FM. During a Q-and-A session following a recent Ford appearance, Courtney shouts into a microphone while apologizing to the 200 or so “Music Row Democrats” gathered at the Belcourt Theatre to hear Ford speak. She takes him to task for telling the audience to stop acting angry.

“I am angry!” she bellows. “I am pissed off! I want to say that I’m angry!” Some applause follows, and Courtney continues.

Throughout, Ford listens patiently, waits a beat after she’s finished, nods in acknowledgment and then pretty much repeats what he had just said.

“Forget ‘angry,’ ” he concludes. “The word we need to focus on is ‘winning.'”

Mild grumbling in the peanut gallery begins to grow. This crowd wants some red meat, and Ford, irritatingly, refuses to provide it. There is mild doubt on the faces of some of the diehards as Ford continues to say things they don’t necessarily want to hear. The question is written on their perplexed faces: We like this guy, but is he really one of us?

The answer today is no. Ford is a student of Clinton and Bush, admitting it willingly, who each won with similar tactics of wide appeal and issue poaching and personal charisma. His desire to stay near the middle puts him at odds with the still left-moving national party, who are starting to flex muscle against DLC legacists such as himself.

Abramson was far ahead of his time in this article. He makes points and illustrates Ford in ways that resonate almost two years later. It is must reading still. He also nails Ford’s problems.

Democrats are coming at Ford now, trying to rope the wayward stallion back into the corral. Take The Black Commentator for instance. They write:

The Black body politic has been invaded by corporate money, which seeks through its media arms to select a new Black leadership from among a small group of compliant and corrupt Democrats. Memphis Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. is a principal vector of the disease, an eager acolyte of the corporate-funded Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), and now the point man among Black Democrats in the Republican mission to destroy Social Security.

Ford should also be known as the Black Man Who Dances With Blue Dogs one of only two Black congressional members of the Blue Dog Democratic Coalition (the other Black and Blue Dog is Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop). C-span congressional scholar Ilona Nickles aptly describes the Blue Dogs as “closer in purpose to a former coalition of southern Members of the House known as the ‘Boll Weevils,’ whose heyday was in the early 1980’s. These Members defected as a group from the Democratic party to vote with Congressional Republicans on budgetary and tax bills.”

The early 80’s, you are reminded, is the period when the Republicans’ began their national rebirth. Ford is a student of winners, regardless of party, which is a source of trouble with his party mates, who increasingly are only looking to a narrower and narrower part of themselves.

Another recent and unmistakable example comes from another alt-weekly, the Memphis Flyer. Ford has been making sympathetic, but deliberately vague, noises about Social Security reform for years. Even Abramson mentions it. It’s of a piece with Ford’s ASPIRE program and its ideals of an “ownership society.” He’s been unclear intentionally. He needs to sound just reformist enough to appeal to Republicans who might support Bush’s prosecution of the War on Terror, but dislike his flaccid domestic agenda. So, he can’t be clear that he’ll need tax increases to do his reforms, which is why he is happy if pundits and commentators inaccurately ally him with the President’s plans. On the other side, he has to reassure Democrats that whatever reforms he supports, they won’t be unpalatable. Study what he’s proposing and you’ll see the same old “more government, more money, more outreach” Democratic approach. Ford hoped no is paying close enough attention either way to call his bluff.

He was wrong. Lots of the new leadership in the party has been and felt the need to get Ford to clear things up. Jackson Baker, the Flyer’s political columnist and a Democratic sympathiser in the general sense of wanting to see the party returned to power and dominance, took up the cudgel. Baker’s purpose is multi-fold, I believe. First, he reads the changing winds, the continuing leftward drift, and is tagging along. Second, I believe he’s always hoped that covering Ford, the rising national star, would get him noticed nationally as well. Maybe gain him some credibility as a “long time chronicler” of the Ford arc, or at least earn him some insider status when Ford becomes a Senator or Presidential candidate one day. Additionally, Baker has really gotten into blogs recently and may be angling for some respect from that quarter.

Baker undertook, in this article, to fix the Ford “problem” vis-a-vis Social Security. It’s very well written, lays out the situation clearly, and forcibly pins Ford to a clear plan. It also destroyed all Ford’s careful work. As Baker noted, one national Democratic opinion leader, Josh Marshall, thought enough of the article to use it as the basis of changing his opinion of Ford. And now Ford is divorced from perceived Bush sympathies, a potential vote getter, and nailed to a traditional “tax and spend” Democratic plan. He’s also firmly associated with Democratic obstructionism and their inexplicable view that there is no problem with Social Security, a view diametrically opposed to his. While the folks at the Flyer are as pleased as can be with their accomplishment, Ford is reportedly quite upset. Small wonder, with friends like these “helping” him out. Having achieved this victory, Baker promises to keep up his shepharding of the wayward Congressman.

This incident gives Tennessee Republicans something they are likely to use against him. They can plausibly argue that Ford is nothing like Clinton or Bush, as he tries to portray himself. He’s no longer a party-leading moderate, but a minion of the Left. They can also definitively show that if the Democratic leadership pushes hard enough, Ford will bend to them against the wishes of his potential constituents. His independence and flexibility have been destroyed. In a state like Tennessee, with a strong-minority Democratic party requiring outreach to Republican voters for Democratic success, he’s been knee-capped politically. But hey, at least he’s ideologically pure now. More tactics like this will end his Senate chances utterly.

Next we turn to the Republican side, which is already, 18 months out, getting crowded. One major possible candidate, US Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, has declined a run. Her House seat is reasonably secure and she enjoys a sterling reputation. She also has iron-clad Republican credentials thanks to her efforts to stop a Tennessee income tax several years ago. It was she who passed the word to a Nashville radio-show host that a tax vote was about to be snuck through the Tennessee General Assembly. The resulting protests formed within minutes and lasted for months, a staggering show of sustained resistance that killed an income tax for many years (altering state-level politics with it), ended a lot of political careers, and earned her the enmity of newspaper editors across the state. I suspect this ready-made target (the press to this day still refer to the daily throngs of protesters as “horn-honking” yahoos), along with a thriving House career, affected her decision not to run.

The reason the Republican primary field is so crowded is a bit of “inside baseball.” Bill Frist’s voluntary stepping down, after a promised two terms, is almost unprecedented. Senate seats rarely come open. The men and women who gain them generally have a virtual lifetime cinesure. Incumbents are rarely beaten. It takes disease or death, major scandal, or the rare generational political re-alignment to unseat a Senator. Even then, there is usually an “heir apparent” already in line waiting election. Frist has avoided this. An open seat such as we face is just too tempting not to take a run at. The odds may be long, but the rewards make it entirely worthwhile.

There are presently three major players in the field.

Undeclared but a likely entrant is the former candidate for Tennessee governor, Van Hilleary. Hilleary is generally well-like and well-respected, and has lots of support state-wide, in part because of the publicity of the 2002 gubernatiorial race. That race, and its decisive win for Democrat Phil Bredesen, may come back to haunt him. Already a Republican with good credentials, he managed to lose to a Democrat who — in Alabama Governor George Wallace’s famous phrase — “out-segged” him.

Hilleary somehow found his Republican strength unseated and outflanked by a Democrat who outdid him on solid Republican issues and put him on the defensive. Republicans were divided by their governor, Don Sundquist, who in his second term suddenly turned his back on Republican principles. He spent wildly and backed a decidedly unpopular State income tax. Bredesen successfully fought his Democratic baggage: attachment to a party that had just fought a vicious battle to pass a State income tax and a perception that he would “back door” that tax if elected. Bredesen, as a Democrat, was widely expected by everyone — Republican and Democrat — to continue the budget-busting spending of his Republican predecessor, but he steadily stated he would reduce spending and not propose new programs. He was repeatedly hammered with this expectation and never bowed. Hilleary was flummoxed and never gained an offensive. He came off as oddly weak, lacking in leadership, always playing catch-up to Bredesen. Hilleary lost soundly to a Democrat in a race widely tipped to be the Republicans’ to lose, leaving him tainted. Facing another underdog Democrat in the Senate race may be a little too uncomfortably close to a history repeat possibility for many. At the least, he’ll lose energy, money and time combatting this perception.

Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker has been running for quite a while already. He’s already got a reported $2 million in the bank, with fund-raising season still to come. But, as Nashville blogger and conservative Republican pundit Bill Hobbs notes:

[Corker is] a moderate Republican allied with the
state’s previous big-spending/pro-income tax governor and also cozy with Democrats….

I have to admit that I know next to nothing about Corker. That, in itself, spells trouble for him, as Shelby County / West Tennessee must be a part of a winning state-wide formula in any primary run. Once the race gets underway, expect to see him spend a lot of early time over in the Western Grand Division.

[Note to non-Tennessee readers: This long, narrow state is traditionally parsed into three “grand divisions” largely due to geography’s effect on 19th century politics and agriculture / manufacturing. The Tennessee River provides the natural boundaries: its eastern flow to the south separates the Eastern and Middle Divisions and on its return northward flow after passing through Alabama it divides the Middle and Western Grand Divisions. Memphis is the “capital” of the West, where the focus was Mississippi River trade and small farming, and the land is very flat and loamy. Nashville is the “capital” of the Middle (sometimes Central), with horses and politics, and elevated rocky soil atop the Cumberland Plateau. Knoxville rules the insular East, with mining, and its Appalachian geography. These Divisions are still politically and culturally distinctive to this day. There are still meaningful animosities and competitions, too.]

The last major candidate, and the one I think is currently in the best position, is former four-term Congressman Ed Bryant. (Campaign website already here.) Bryant has previously made a run at the other Tennessee Senate seat, the one currently occupied by former governor and Republican Lamar Alexander. There are important lessons and cautions to note here.

Bryant is the only social conservative in the race so far. His stances on a wide array of issues habr strong appeal to fundamentalist and evangelical Christian conservatives. He can be counted on to use this appeal in the next Senate race.

But in 2002, when Alexander opposed him, the Bush White House (read: Karl Rove) refused to endorse Bryant, even though he was widely viewed as a stronger candidate, and backed the far past his prime Alexander instead. (He had been reduced to a sideshow perennial Presidential campaign that was noted more for sad laughs than serious consideration.) Alexander has also sometimes been derided for his moderate/RINO (Republican in Name Only) tendencies. The choice stung Bryant.

In that race, and other elections cycles during his first term, Bush and his advisors have shown a consistent tendency to prefer “marquee” Republicans — former office holders or candidates with proven name appeal — over more strongly credentialed social conservatives. Riordan over Simon in California; Liddy Dole, Arlen Specter, Lamar Alexander, etc. Even if the “marquee” Republicans carry RINO labels and visible liberal positions, the Bush White House has gone to them over popular and desirable social, Christian, and fiscal conservatives.

In Tennessee’s 2006 Senate race, they are the other shoe waiting to be dropped. It’s still an open question whether the White House will involve itself as strongly as it has to date in Senate and House races. Rove has announced that his days of Presidential campaigning are over, but he’s also believed to be committed to a plan to ensure a Republican dominance of national politics to rival their previous early 20th century reign, and the mid-century Democratic one. Keeping Tennessee red is vital to that plan.

Where does that leave Bryant? Hanging in limbo, unfortunately. At present, I can’t think of another “marquee” Tennessee Republican who can be called on. Will the Bush White House accept a social conservative if he’s the winning candidate? Or will they move to back a lesser-known (and so more expensive to campaign) moderate like Corker? It’s the open question that will be decisive in shaping the Republican primary campaign season.

Hilleary and Bryant are both already touting polls showing them leading the field. Obviously, at this early date the polls are totally without merit except as tools for media marketing and newspaper stories. Most Tennesseans have no idea there’s already a contest going on!

As the race begins to take shape later this year and really heat up, there are many places to get information. From the traditional newsprint sources you can expect the standard, familiar, Democrat-leaning analysis and reporting. Here’s the big-city rundown:
In Memphis: the daily Commercial Appeal and the alt-weekly Memphis Flyer.
In Nashville: the daily Tennessean and the alt-weekly Nashville Scene.
In Knoxville: the daily News-Sentinel.

Online, there are the following conservative and/or Republican blogs:
Hobbs Online (Tennessee’s #1 right-side blogger and conservative Republican.)
South End Grounds (Former Republican operative in Nashville.)
Half-Bakered (Memphis conservative Libertarian.)
Frank Cagle (Long-time commentator and analyst.)
Fishkite (Christian conservative supporter of Ed Bryant.)
Right Minded (Lebanon, TN, Democrat reporter and columnist.)
Adam Groves (UT graduate and Republican political operative.)

…and their liberal and/or Democratic counterparts:
South Knox Bubba (Tennessee’s #1 left-side blogger and “progressive” Democrat.)
LeanLeft (Memphis Democrats.)
No Silence Here (Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter and blogger.)
Democratic Talk Radio (Tennessee-based, partisan Democratic weekly talk radio show and website.)

This bloglist is by no means complete. As the election approaches more will join in. Most folks aren’t paying attention yet. But at the present time, these are the ones who are or shortly will be shaping the discussion. You can go to the Rocky Top Brigade webpage for a more complete list of Tennessee bloggers.

The race will ultimately be hot and vigorous. It will have a defining effect on the career of Harold Ford, Jr. It may even become a bellwether for Democratic chances of recovery under Howard Dean’s leadership and Republican plans for the post-Bush future. Stay tuned.

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About Mike

  • Free Spirit

    Interesting article (and comments) to read post-November 7.

  • Janet Finch

    I believe that Harold Ford,Jr. is a true visionary for the state of TN. He is an excellant candidate that looks beyond popular causes. He wants the American Dream to be a reality for every citizen. That by hard work,true values, and with unwavering perserverance. I just wish he was running in my state. At one time we as fellow southerners were known as the New South, The Progressive South in 1976,we were the south that elected a fellow southerner President, Pres. Jimmy Carter. We have always rewarded individuals on merit, virtue, and integrity.

  • matt

    vote for corker

  • Evan

    Tennessee is better off having Corker or Ford in the Senate. Both men would be excellent ambassadors for the state.
    I am a democrat living in Chattanooga, and I know how effective Corker can be. He has greatly improved this city through his commitment to the public arts, balancing the budget, reducing violent crime, and lowering taxes while stimulating the economy. I wish that he would stay as our mayor, but I also know that he would do an outstanding job as Senator.
    Ford is a born leader. His innate ability was proven when he came out of school and directly got elected to the House. One problem with Ford is his family. Although he may be perfectly qualified, his family’s reputation will follow him. It is something he cannot escape. Harold Ford does represent a new national movement in politics. He truly thinks about solutions before partisan commitments, and seems to have a positive and plausible vision for America’s future.
    I really hope that Ford and Corker can have mudsling free campaigns, but with the large national interest in the race and all of the money flowing into each campaign, the campaigns will most likely turn negative, as we saw in the Republican primary.
    I am going to vote for Corker because of his commitment to the people and to Chattanooga and his dedication to serving the state of Tennessee. I think that both candidates would do a great job, but Corker is the one.



  • Here’s an NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll found at pollingreport.com-

    “In general, do you think that it is a good idea or a bad idea to change the Social Security system to allow workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market?”
    Good Idea: 40%
    Bad Idea: 51%
    Unsure: 9%

    So maybe the Bush administration’s ideas aren’t hugely unpopular as Stephen would say, but they’re certainly nowhere near popular either.

  • Dave, I think that poll is a little misleading without the question that accompanies it. I’m sure that most people support privitazation of some kind, but perhaps not Bush’s plan specifically…

    For instance: if the question was “do you support privitazation of some of social security,” you’d be likely to see the numbers you have posted…but if you asked specifically if they supported Bush’s plan, the numbers could be totally different.

    Know what i mean?

  • Dave N.: Go and reread Stephen’s comment and you’ll see he uses arguable phrases like “hugely unpopular” to allow himself both room to get away with it and to defend himself. He’d likely say that “one third of Democrats *is* huge.” Or some such. He’s a blind partisan.

    Kathy: Thanks! It’s good news to hear. The Club for Growth also got involved in a Tennessee race before, with Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn.

    Silas (in #19): I don’t know how to answer this. Race is a fact of politics in Tennessee, like it or not. It’s just the truth that a lot of Tennesseans, of both parties, will never vote for a black person, regardless. Coming to Tennessee, as someone suggested farther up the comments, to re-educate and confront us on this would be catastrophically stupid, as we’d do what anyone would do when confronted and get defensive. Then you’ll see falsely optimistic polls as people say one thing, then do something else on Election Day.

    As far as the Butcher Bank scandals, they happened before my arrival in Tennessee and interest in our politics. It is another reason the Ford name is mildly poisonous here.

    Adam also touches on something I didn’t get to, which is that Harold Jr. may be hit with Gore’s Disease. He, too, was raised in tony private and prep schools in Washington. He’s spent a lot of time with the rich and powerful, and not as much as most people think in funky Memphis.

    He also was, quite literally, handed his father’s Congressional seat, following the Butcher scandals. Jr. had no previous work experience or political office holding. His father shepherded son into office. It’s the closest we’ve ever had to a monarchial succession; far worse than anything an anti-Bush fantasist might conceive. Some readers may think I’m exaggerating or using hyperbole, but it’s very, very true. Look it up.

    Lastly, since posting this I’ve heard some things about the folks backing Corker. As in many wealthy, powerful and connected Republican leaders have already cast their lot with him. It’s lent more weight to the warnings about a conservative in-fight during the primary serving Corker’s campaign. We will see.

    Thanks again for all the interest in this post!

  • Stephen Crockett threw all credibility to the winds when he wrote:

    >>The Bush Administrations approach to Social Security is hugely unpopular both nationally and in Tennessee.<< Democrat Support for Privatization: 66% Independent Support for Privatization: 72% Republican Support for Privatization: 88% This is from an Opinion Dynamics poll, but others have gotten basically the same results with similar questions. Got any more lies for us, Stephen? Dave

  • Kathy

    Adam, I’ve googled and read up on the Butcher scandal and all I’ll say is that Harold Ford Sr. is lucky he didn’t go to jail. In my state, I remember similar scandals involving savings & loans comanies. There is nothing lower than these types of individuals. While Harold Ford Jr.’s hands may be clean, I suspect that he benefitted (financially – schooling, etc.) from his father’s alleged corruption. Maybe his running for the senate will give the citizens of east TN and elsewhere, the last word.

    Mike (regarding comment #18), I can’t find any recent links regarding the OK senate race but, the OK democratic party found the most conservative democrat they could find in Brad Carson. He was a representative of OK’s 2nd congressional district. His republican opponent, Dr. Tom Coburn, formerly represented the second district (meaning they were both from eastern OK which likely affected the election’s outcome with a split of these voters who are traditionally democratic). The race was neck and neck for a long time. Coburn (the eventual winner) is a shoot from the hip conservative and almost did himself in. However, the conservative “Club for Growth” ran ads over and over linking Carson to John Kerry (who lost every county in OK), Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy. In the end, it wasn’t close. If Carson couldn’t come close in OK against a questionable opponent, I don’t think Ford can in TN – especially if there are untold stories/facts about the unvetted (he inherited his congressional seat) Ford Jr.

  • Anyone who believes that Ford will be remotely popular in East Tennessee should Google the phrase “Butcher Bank Scandal.” Harold Ford’s father (Harold Ford, Sr.) robbed thousands of East Tennesseans their life savings when a bank he was heavily involved in went under because of corrupt back-room dealings. Voters may be able to distinguish between John Ford and Harold Ford, but will they be able to distinguish between Harold Ford and Harold Ford?

  • Stephen Crockett said:
    “I live in one of the rural Middle Tennessee counties (Lincoln) that is often trending Republican. Ford can win in Lincoln County.”

    From the State Election Commission we learn that Lincoln County went 7800 for Bush and 4500 for Kerry in 2004. In 2000, it was 5400 for Bush and 5100 for Gore.

    “Trending” indeed.

  • Michael Roy Hollihan: He’s (Harold Ford) one of a coming breed of post-Civil Rights Era black politicians. He is a black candidate acceptable, and even attractive, to a lot of whites; able to speak the bland pieties of politics without recourse to black cadences like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Ford can “be black” without having to play the race card. He doesn’t automatically cause white liberal guilt meters to twitch with his merest utterances.

    The Democrats have some excellent Black people in government today. What I have noticed is that Republicans on the local level are quietly convincing other “minorities” such as the Asian and Hispanic communities that the GOP has their best interest at heart while the Democarts “continue pandering” to the black community. The opposite is true on the Democrat side with an equally vicious whisper campaign. GOP elitists may look at Dean’s chairmanship as a joke continuing to paint him as an ultra left wing fanatic. The evidence presents the case that Howard Dean is, if anything, a centrist. And to his credit he has the courage to speak his truth. How can there be an honest debate in the USA if politicians aren’t even allowed to appear to be politically incorrect? What are we afraid of? The brutal truth?

    Mr. Hollihan certainly exposes the flaws within the Tenessee GOP which may cause it to allow Frist’s Senate seat to cross the aisle. As far as I am concerned the Democrats have a moral obligation to march into Tenessee and fight tirelessly for the Senate seat held by the current Majority Leader. What Frist did to Tom Daschle in South Dakota is tantamount to the lowest for of slime politics I have ever observed. So much for Frist being a uniter. He must have taken President Bush’s lead.

    We need an open, honest dialog about race, religion and sexual equality in this country and until that day comes, this horrible chasm that divides us will remain. It’s kind of ironic that in many ways Americans are probably the most racist in the Western world. Perhaps that comes from being a multi-cultured society. What we’ve forgotten is that we are not Polish, French, African, Chinese, or any other nationality. We are Americans and it is incumbent upon us to take the best from all the cultures that comprise our own.

    So, what’s my point? Everybody, whites included, plays the race card for their own political gains. A gay Buddhist Black Hispanic may do very well in this political system as both parties would clamor for that vote. Al Sharpton, as comical as he is, spoke many truths during the last presidential campaign. In 1991 he said, “I don’t think Dr. King helped racial harmony, I think he helped racial justice. What I profess to do is help the oppressed and if I cause a load of discomfort in the white community and the black community, that in my opinion means I’m being effective, because I’m not trying to make them comfortable. The job of an activist is to make people tense and cause social change.”

    Where will America be at the end of this century? How many books will be published about the decline and fall of American civilization? The brutal reality of 9-11 ended up being another sound bite in the whole scheme of things. The politicians told us that we were united against terrorism and that as Americans we would prevail. The joke is on the American people, my friends. We compartmentalized that day like everything else and placed it in the far reaches of our subconsciousness.

    We should give a damn about the political situation in every one of these 50 states. What happens on the local level in the upcoming election cycle sends a message not only to Washington but to the world. Neither major political party has all the answers so this is the time for compromise. We either start getting it right or we continue on that downward slope we refuse to admit that we are on.

  • Kathy, I’m not familiar with this race. Got any links or sites I can read to learn more? I’d appreciate it.

    For readers of this post who don’t follow links or already know, Stephen is the co-host of Democratic Talk Radio, a one-hour weekly Tennessee radio show. He and the show/website are partisan Democrats.

    Stephen, please bother to read before writing. You are invited to read my blog, Half-Bakered to learn more. I am a registered, voting Libertarian, not a Republican. I’m not aware at this time of a Libertarian candidate in this race, hence I did not mention the party. I have a post on my blog advocating Libertarians learn to ally themselves with both Republicans and Democrats in order to make substantive Libertarian gains.

    My post was my comments and analysis and not those of some political organisation. I am not “characterising” his family and its reputation across the state. I’m reporting what I see, read, and hear from many others, including newspapers and newsletters.

    Bredesen won, as I pointed out a couple of times above, because he sounded like a Republican. Ford is trying the same tactic, but his own party, and fans such as yourself, are denying him that. I’ll repeat: Ford will lose.

  • Kathy

    Michael Hollihan and Stephen Crockett, I have a brief commentary/question. (And it really is a question and not necessarily a counterargument to what has been written). How will Ford’s race (theoretically) in Tennesee be different from Brad Carson’s 04 race in Oklahoma. Carson is similar to Ford (w/ the exception of race). Carson was defeated in OK by a very right wing Republican nominee. I know Carson ran during a Presidential election year but I see similarities in OK and TN voters and that is why I tend to believe that Ford will have a hard time winning in TN. The black population is slightly larger in TN but not dramatically so. I’m thinking if Carson couldn’t do it in OK, Ford can’t do it in TN (barring some implosion with the TN GOP).

  • Stephen Crockett

    I was amazed my the blatant Republican bias of this commentary. I found very little of it to be truly convincing. The entire first section was a combination of Republican wishful thinking (“But Harold Ford, Jr. will lose.”) and character assassination aimed against Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. There seemed to be strong undertones of racism that seem to plague the Tennessee Republican Party at the local activist level. The writer seems highly offended that Congressman Ford was born into a political family that the writer dislikes (“On the state level, however, he is still a Ford.”) .

    I happen to be a moderate conservative Democrat. I strongly support traditional family values and traditional American values. Attacking a man’s family to undermine them politically is simply beyond the pale. The writer owes Congressman Ford an apology for his approach.

    Tennessee voters will judge Congressman Ford on his own personal merits and record. It is impressive. Is George W. Bush responsible for his brother’s action in losing millions of taxpayers dollars in a failed savings-n-loan scandal? I did not see either the Gore or Kerry campaign attack the Bush family as a family to score political points. It is shameful that Tennessee Republican bloggers have so little respect for traditional family values and traditional American political values.

    The writer has tried to blacken the reputation of Congressman Ford by tying him to President Clinton. Only a strong Republican bias would make the comparison a negative thing. Tennessee’s independent and Democratic voters love President Clinton. The many failures of the current Bush Administration certainly make Tennessee residents long for the good days of the Clinton era. Bush’s radical economic policies and budgetary priorities are really hurting the middle class and working Americans. Real conservatives are horrified by the debts of the federal government and massive trade deficits arising from the policies of Bush Republicanism. The assault on the Bill of Rights by the Bush Administration seriously worries traditional Constitutional advocates. We all would love another “Clinton” economy… including Tennessee Republicans!

    The Bush Administrations approach to Social Security is hugely unpopular both nationally and in Tennessee. Bush’s plan is truly the “piratization” of Social Security the way Bush has defined the issue. His plan does not address any of the existing problems of the current Social Security program. The biggest problems are that the Bush Administration has stolen the Social Security surplus to fund huge tax cuts for the Super Wealthy and created huge debts by fighting a war in Iraq on the national credit card. Bush’s plan is designed to create profits for Wall Street interests. It is a sneak attack on the most effective government program ever devised by the Democratic Party. Bush’s plan will create huge additional problems and excessive administrative costs for American taxpayers. The idea that Ford would be hurt politically by not supporting Bush on this issue is absurd. Tennessee’s Main Streets are not New York’s Wall Street! Tennessee’s Republican voters need Social Security as much as Tennessee’s independents and Democrats.

    The writer seems to think that Bush’s invasion of Iraq is hugely popular. Guess again! By no measure has the Iraq adventure been sound policy, effective or a stunning success. The basis for the War has been revealed as lies. The financial cost has been around a hundred times greater than we were told going into the War. We have given Bin Laden a recruiting goldmine. We have far more terrorists in Iraq now than before the War. Tens of thousands of American soldiers have died or been wounded. The advantages so far in Iraq have been very few but the costs have been great! America has been weakened by Bush’s policies in Iraq instead of strengthened. It is certainly not anti-American to oppose policies that weaken our nation. Supporting policies that go against our national interests are anti-American in my opinion. We should have stuck to our traditional American approaches to warfare and conflict instead of going off on Bush’s radical new approach in Iraq. Bush should have stayed focused on Bin Laden and Afghanistan instead of falling into Bin Laden’s trap of making the issue appear to be America against the Moslem world!

    I confess that I am not an expert on Congressman Ford’s position on Iraq. The above opinions are only my own. They are widely shared by many others including many conservative Republicans.

    The idea that the Ford family name is a sure loser in East Tennessee and Middle Tennessee is simply silly. Statewide, very few voters are aware of local Memphis politicans. Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. is hugely popular in Democratic circles everywhere in the state. His views are quite moderate and mainsream. His image is not much different than our popular Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen! We saw Bredesen soundly whip Van Hilleary. Hilleary soundly whipped Ed Bryant. Mayor Bob Corker is virtually unknown statewide. All three are very weak candidates likely to grow weaker in the battle for the Republican nomination. The two best known Republican contenders have records of losing statewide!

    Only Republican wishful thinking would see an absolute Republican dominance in Middle Tennessee. The fact that the Republicans could not even retain Hilleary’s Congressional seat against the Democratic candidate Lincoln Davis proves differently. I live in one of the rural Middle Tennessee counties (Lincoln) that is often trending Republican. Ford can win in Lincoln County. His record and style has appeal even to Republicans in middle Tennessee.

    It is interesting to note that East Tennessee has become less Republican dominated in recent years. Ford can give Republicans a serious battle statewide! Republicans cannot take for granted any region of the state any more than can the Democrats.

    The writer showed his blatant Republican bias by trying to falsely pin the liberal label on the new DNC Chairman Howard Dean. Dean is a strong gun rights advocate who has often been supported by the NRA! Dean balances government budgets unlike George W. Bush! Dean supports the Bill of Rights unlike the Bush Republicans! Dean is a true moderate on political issues.

    Republicans try to smear any true Democrat with a “fighting spirit” as a far lefty. This is pure propaganda and nothing more…. just like most of the article I am responding to with this commentary.

  • RJ, based on what? Numbers and name are against him here. His only hope is some kind of Republican screwup, which isn’t impossible but not enough to hang a victory on. Bredesen only won because he was more Republican than the Republican!

    Tennessee Republicans are still not a party ready for majority rule, though. They’re getting there, but not yet.

  • RJ

    Great post!

    However, I think Ford will likely win in 2006…

  • Mike, thanks for sharing! Keep us informed about the progress in Tennessee.. Maybe we can harness that energy and use it across the nation. I am with you, we need to focus our energy on Congress and elected officials, not on each other. As long as we allow politicians to keep the divide between red and blue strong, they have the upper hand. Maybe I am deluded as some have said. I believe that we can gather at grassroots level across this land and foster real change.

  • Thanks to everyone for their comments. Many of our governmental problems result from folks content to let them do what they will. We need to become a nation of the discontent. Not at each other, but at Congress. But since so many folks depend on Congressional money or power, I don’t see that happening….

    Tennesseans staged months-long rallies and protests several years ago to prevent the State government from imposing an income tax. Despite the howls from the newspapers and the legislators, it worked. Then the supporters of the tax were booted out of office or chased away. Now we have a Democratic governor who doesn’t dare to propose an income tax.

    Shelby Countians (Memphis to you) are doing the same thing, forcing local government to lay people off and trim, trim, trim. It’s also drawing howls and cries of “End of the world! Death! Starvation!” But it’s working.

    Our next step is to clean out corruption, and there are signs it’s about to happen. Our mayor laid off 1000 people last Friday. Well, he had his underling announce it while he hid out all weekend. Memphians are very pissed right now, as he just a few months ago gave out generous raises to his staff and office!

    Anyway, again, thanks to everyone for reading!

  • I knew you had it nailed with “at odds with the still left-moving national party”

  • I agree, Eric. I’d love to start with a Constitutional Convention made up of delegates who have NEVER been in political office. There can be a 14 day campaign at local levels by House District with no private funding. It’s nice to be able to dream.

  • Silas – The divisive leadership — in the House at leat — on both sides is somewhat the result of gerrymandering.

    Overall, we’re seeing a Death of the Middle which is cauding both sides to lean toward the extreme.

    I believe many Americans are looking forward to leaders who can unify moderates on both sides of the spectrum. And I don’t think it matters if there’s a D or R next to the name.

  • Interesting read, Michael. I may just have to read the book.

    I have held Frist in the lowest esteem since he went to South Dakota and camaigned against Tom Daschle. There was always a gentlemen’s agreement between the aisles that majority and minority leaders would remain out of the sights of party rifles. Frist broke that rule in another move by one side to deepen the rift with the other.

    Now before anyone goes and accuses me of being Democrat, I’m am saying that BOTH sides of the aisle are at fault to varying degrees. For Democrats the 2006 Tennessee Senatorial race should be high on their list of priorities. While the GOP really needs to set their sights on a couple of bleeding heart liberals.

    I would love to see a major shift in leadership on both sides of the aisle in the next Congress. Reid, Santorum, Frist, Clinton and Kennedy are too devisive. Ronnie and Tip, you are sorely missed.

  • I have no particular interest in most state politics (except California)…

    Hal, as a Democrat, I’m intensely interested in all state politics insofar it has an impact on the makeup of Congress.

    From what I’ve seen of Ford, he seems likeable, charismatic, and mostly centrist in his views. I wish him the best of luck if he seeks a place in the Senate.

  • Dave, none of the quotes you provided had Democrats saying there was no problem with Social Security.

    That’s simply right wing propaganda that you seem to have unthinkingly swallowed.

    You persist in thinking the propaganda is true even when faced with the facts.

    The Wall Street Journal had an item about a study on this a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, a lot of people simply continue to believe wrong information, misinformation and lies even when accepting facts that refute the lies.

    The Journal also described how many politicians use this deliberately. They will lie then retract the lie later, knowing that some portion of their audience will continue to believe the lie even if they know and accept the fact that the politician retracted the lie.

    They included some examples of lies about Iraq by this adminstration.

    What the Journal did not do is explain why, as you illustrate, this seems to be endemic among right-wing partisans.

  • Tonnie

    I agree that Ford’s chances seem slim but the Ford family in general always seem to find a way to win. Regarding his troubled uncle, it is understandable that Ford is trying to distance himself. At the same time, it is also ironic in that his family and name are in large part responsible for where he is today. Also, if I were advising Ford, I would tell him that his statements differentiating himself from his uncle mean very little if you are going to contradict yourself and show up conspicuously at a Playboy party during Super Bowl weekend.

  • Perhaps I’m dim in some ways – for example I continue to try to talk to a brick wall – but at least when confronted with scores of quotes from Democrats saying there’s no problem with social security I at least admit that the quotes are real.


  • Apparently you haven’t gotten any smarter since we last talked, Dave.

    Nor any more clever.

  • >>Good piece, even though if I had my druthers, I’druther see a different outcome.<< Well of course, Hal. But the Communist Party candidate really stands almost no chance of winning, sorry. BTW, the description of the Democratic view of social security as being that there is no problem with it, is exactly correct, as you should know by now have already been thoroughly instructed on it. Dave

  • Aside from inserting the propaganda about a Democratic view on Social Security that Democrats do not hold, an excellent article.

    I have no particular interest in most state politics (except California), but in this case the state can have a strong impact on what happens at the federal level (a “Frist is great for 2008” presidential run?)

    Pinning Ford as a mini-me-Republican DLC acolyte was good, too, and should help peel him away from a few votes.

    The Dems are a long way from having their act together.

    Good piece, even though if I had my druthers, I’druther see a different outcome.