- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

In 1989, Virginians elected a black Democrat as governor. Doug Wilder is the man who broke that color barrier but no black American — male or female, Republican or Democrat — has crossed that threshold since. Similarly, voters have only sent five blacks to the U.S. Senate — three Republicans and two Democrats, including a female first, Carol Moseley Braun. Will the fall elections make history with a new wave of black firsts?

The bucklers of the Bible Belt have in their midst a black Democrat who is proving that he can stand on the cusp of some conservative issues and not — and this is where I get my greatest giggle — be a slave to the Democratic Party. The man’s name is Harold Ford Jr., and he is giving the Republican Party more than one reason to squirm in the Tennessee Senate race — from his House vote for the Patriot Act and opposition to the Dubai Ports agreement and partial-birth abortion to his position on such Bible Belt issues as same-sex marriage, public display of the Ten Commandments, flag burning and the death tax.

Harold the Junior has captured a first-place medal from Republicans for his campaign ad that has him sitting, quite comfortably so, in the sanctuary of the Memphis church — the Baptist church — where he was baptized. Meanwhile, Bible thumpers are screaming blasphemy and the atheists and other nonbelievers, who are as averse to church pews and tithing as they are the word of God, are spewing hellfire, criticizing Mr. Ford for mixing politics and religion. Irony of ironies in the Bible Belt.

The Republican hiding behind the fiery wails of the nonbelievers is Bob Corker, Mr. Ford’s opponent. Mr. Corker and his Republican colleagues should be nervous: The Tennessee seat could tip the balance of power in the Senate and the two nominees are neck-and-neck in the polls. According to a SurveyUSA poll that was conducted prior the airing of Mr. Ford’s sitting-in-the-pew ad, Mr. Ford led Mr. Corker 48 percent to 45 percent. That poll was taken Sept. 9-11. A Rasmussen Reports poll, taken the same week, showed Mr. Corker with a mere one-point lead, with 45 percent to Mr. Ford’s 44 percent.

Of course polls, by their very nature, never paint the clearest of pictures, but the Ford ad is the genius of a black campaigner who is trying to set himself apart from the get-tough House crew and Teddy Kennedy’s family of liberals. Tennessee’s is a promising wait-see race, especially since, if Mr. Ford wins in November, he would be the first Democrat to win the Senate seat since that guy who “invented” the Internet, Al Gore, and would be the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction.

As Mr. Ford and Mr. Corker slug it out in what will likely end up the costliest race in Tennessee history ($40 million), Massachusetts Democrats are positioning former Clinton appointee Deval Patrick to capture the race for governor against the state’s Republican lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey. And while Mr. Patrick is a Democrat cut from whole civil-right-era cloth, and no doubt as comfortable singing “We Shall Overcome” as Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop,” thinking about tomorrow and the possibility of becoming the first black governor of Massachusetts or losing to the first woman elected to that post is giving great expectations for some voting blocs. After all, it was Massachusetts that sent Edward Brooke to the U.S. Senate. He was black and Republican — and he was first elected during the turbulent ‘60s, when Massachusetts was griping about mandatory school busing and the liberals in Washington.

There also is the possibility that Massachusetts voters are moving away from the type of Kennedy liberalism that has dominated the blue state’s politics. Still, be warned: Republicans shouldn’t unwrap the Ramon Allones Tubos or any other pre-Castro cigars just yet. Mr. Patrick, who supports the Cape Wind project, beat two other Democrats in Tuesday’s primary, but Mr. Kennedy, who opposes the alternative-energy project, ran unopposed. While Mr. Patrick and his Eastern pedigree are formidable opponents, Bay State Democrats aren’t quite ready to dispose themselves of the Kennedy cachepot.

What’s in store for Tennessee conservatives is not yet firmed up. To be sure, though, Harold the Junior will not take it laying down. The Ford campaign strategy includes playing up the strengths of the smooth, charismatic politician, who knows Washington better than he knows Tennessee. Mr. Corker is no match for Mr. Ford’s TV persona, which is why Mr. Corker rejected Tim Russert’s “Meet the Press” invitation for a Ford-Corker match to add to his Senate debate lineups.

Pundits and bloggers beware: History is at hand, and you’ll need more than Google and Wikipedia at the ready this election season.

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