- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2006

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Republican Bob Corker narrowly won the seat vacated by retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist last night, edging Democrat Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr.

Mr. Corker, who had trailed in some polls last month, was declared the winner by the Associated Press early this morning after a hard-fought election in which voters stood in line to vote until midnight in three counties.

With 88 percent of precincts reporting, the AP reported, Mr. Corker had 832,403 votes (51 percent) to Mr. Ford’s 773,542 (48 percent).

The Ford campaign, however, noted that Mr. Corker’s lead was less than 70,000 and said that Mr. Ford still could make up the difference in Memphis and Nashville, two of his strongest areas of support.

Hours after the official poll closing time, voters were still standing in line in Mr. Ford’s hometown of Memphis, in Nashville and also in Clarksville, home to many military families near Fort Campbell, Ky.

“That’s one of the great things about Tennessee: If you are in line when the polls close, you have to be given an opportunity to vote and people will wait three, four, five hours here,” said Tom Lee, a senior adviser with the Ford campaign.

Both Senate candidates crisscrossed the state twice in the past three days to drive turnout, saying they had no faith in opinion polls.

Mr. Corker arrived here Monday night from his home city of Chattanooga and drove back yesterday morning with numerous stops along the way. Mr. Ford, the Democratic candidate, toured the eastern part of the state Monday and spent yesterday on his home turf here in the western part of the state.

“Everyone has talked about all these polls, but we know that the only thing that matters, the only poll that matters, is the voters,” Mr. Corker said.

Mr. Ford said he was confident that the odds were in his favor, saying he considered the record number of residents, more than 800,000, who voted early were his supporters.

“I don’t blame the Republicans here in Tennessee for the direction in Iraq and the record deficits, but they want change, and they know that we need to change Washington,” Mr. Ford said.

Both men awaited the results in their home cities.

Mr. Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, Tennessee state finance commissioner and construction magnate, fought a vicious primary battle against former Reps. Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant to become the Republican nominee.

Mr. Corker had a comfortable lead in August polls that dwindled until early October, when polls showed him dead even with Mr. Ford.

“I think what happened early is the fact that the Republicans had a primary that was so contentious, and we really didn’t have the unity we expected afterwards,” said Joe Carr, a Republican candidate for the state legislature from Murfreesboro.

By October, many pundits were shocked to see Mr. Ford leading in some polls.

National Republicans’ concern translated into big changes in the Corker campaign with the hiring of a prominent Hollywood press consultant and the firing of Ben Mitchell as campaign manager, replaced by Tom Ingram, chief of staff to Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican.

Many in Tennessee credited a high-profile incident three weeks ago — in which Mr. Ford, 36, confronted Mr. Corker, 54, at the Memphis airport — with helping fuel the Republican’s comeback.

“I think the ‘Memphis Meltdown’ had something to do with the momentum shift,” said Colin Richmond, 37, a business owner here. “People got to see the Ford machine, this idea that no one is allowed to do anything in this town unless the Fords say so.”

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