- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tennessee is living up to its reputation as a battleground state with Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., a Democrat, running neck and neck with Bob Corker, Chattanooga’s Republican mayor, in their race for the Senate.

Mr. Corker’s early double-digit polling lead in his bid to hold for Republicans the seat being vacated by Majority Leader Bill Frist has dwindled into a statistical dead heat, and Democrats now think they can capture the seat in this Republican-leaning state.

Republicans have underestimated the effectiveness of Mr. Ford’s campaign, said Merle Black, political science professor at Emory University.

“It just looks like Ford wants this a lot more than Corker does,” he said.

The stakes are high for Mr. Ford.

A victory by the son of former Rep. Harold Ford Sr. would give Democrats an unexpected victory in their effort to pick up six seats to win back the Senate majority in November.

It also would mark the first time a black person in the South has won an open election to the Senate and could be seen as the first chink in the armor of the Republican’s Southern fortress. Republicans control both Senate seats in 10 of the 13 Southern states. Only Florida and Louisiana have split-party Senate representation, and only Arkansas has two Democrats.

Mr. Ford dismisses all of that.

“I’m not fighting for any legacy or any party pride or anything like that; I’m fighting for a seat on the U.S. Senate for the people of Tennessee. It’s not any party’s seat; it’s the people’s seat,” he said.

Corker’s campaign manager Ben Mitchell said financial support from Tennesseans will translate to votes in November.

“Our fundraising shows a tremendous amount of support from right here in Tennessee … in contrast to Mr. Ford, who has a majority of his money coming in from out of state,” Mr. Mitchell said.

“Bob Corker represents Tennessee values while Congressman Ford represents the values of out-of-state donors from California and New York who are funding his campaign.”

The election is much closer than Republicans expected and they are having a tough time developing a strategy that can work against Mr. Ford.

“What we have to do is contend with a guy who is a very gifted talker and who will say just about anything to score political points,” said Dan Ronayne, National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) spokesman.

Mr. Ford has also proven to be an effective counter-puncher.

The NRSC yesterday, using his voting record, pegged Mr. Ford as a flip-flopper on border security. He voted against legislation to create a 700-mile fence on the border that he said could not be done. But last week he voted for it, saying the bill presented was more comprehensive, including things other than the fence alone.

Mr. Ford immediately countered with the help of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that put up an ad saying that Mr. Corker’s construction firm has been cited for hiring illegal aliens.

Early on in the campaign the Republicans attempted to paint Mr. Ford as “Fancy Ford” who likes to live lavishly on the taxpayer’s dime, but that quickly fizzled out.

“I’ve just finished paying off my college loans, and this guy is worth upwards of a quarter-billion dollars or more with a 40-room house in the Chattanooga mountains and 10 cars,” Mr. Ford said.

One thing Mr. Ford cannot shake is limited residency in the state.

“Ford is like Al Gore,” Mr. Ronayne said. “In 2000, we were able to show that Gore was more D.C. than Tennessee and Ford has the same problems.”

Mr. Ford has worked hard to counteract that problem telling audiences that it isn’t his fault that he came to the District with his mother and father when he was nine, “and since I didn’t have a job or any money to pay my rent in Memphis, I decided to come with them.”

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