October 27, 2006

Ten-Sen: Ideological Acrobatics & Boundless Charm

A New-Model Ford
While militant God-talk has long been a staple of Republican campaigns, shooting ads inside the "Lord's house" has been considered off-limits. But that wasn't the biggest source of surprise when Tennesseans started seeing the now-famous "church ad" in September. The candidate exploiting his faith was a Democrat--Harold Ford Jr., the 36-year-old Congressman from Memphis. Once considered a quixotic long shot to fill the US Senate seat left vacant by Republican majority leader Bill Frist, Ford has risen from a double-digit deficit in the polls to draw even with former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker, a moderately conservative multimillionaire with all the charisma of a tree stump. Ford could deliver the Democrats a majority in the Senate by becoming just the fourth African-American ever elected to that chamber by popular vote, and the first from the South. [..]

Rocketing back and forth across the green hills of Tennessee with unflagging energy, Ford has wooed white conservatives with an exuberant mash-up of high-voltage star power, earthy eloquence and a contrarian right-wingery that never fails to surprise and delight. "I get in trouble with Democrats," he confessed not long ago to the Rotary Club in the town of Cleveland, "because I like President Bush." In a year when most Republican candidates won't touch their Commander in Chief with a ten-foot pole, Ford hugs him tight. "They say I don't look like you," he recently assured a crowd of Caucasians at the Catfish Place in Camden, "but I share your values." [..]

It is anything but clear what kind of senator Ford will make if he can break that old curse. Some Democrats hope he'll edge back toward his original centrism; many expect him to join the small band of Congressional DINOs (Democrats in Name Only) led by Senator Joe Lieberman, whom Ford recently endorsed over Democrat Ned Lamont. But there is no question that Tennessee voters' verdict on November 7 will send a loud and lasting message about the viability of black Democrats in statewide (not to mention national) races. If Ford's ideological acrobatics and boundless charm can't make white voters look past the color of his skin, what will?
Nothing will.

In a year in when rubber stamp Republicans are running away from President Bush and Democratic Senate candidates are running winning populist campaigns, Harold Ford Jr. is running as a better kind of ‘Conservative’. Even with all this political acrobatics and this charm Harold Ford Jr. at the end of the day is still a Black Democrat running in the Old South. The GOP is using their standard playbook appealing to racist voters. The Southern Strategy is out in full force for Republican Bob Corker, which might give him boost he needs to become the next Senator of Tennessee. Hopefully one day the Republican Southern Strategy will die, but that day might not come soon enough for Democrat Harold Ford Jr.


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