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Ford pledges "issue" rich campaign
Apr 19, 2005 12:00 am
April 18, 2005
Congressman Harold Ford Jr. says his run for the U.S. Senate next year will be an "issue rich campaign," a concept he said he knows falls outside the usual political logic.
"It's a risk, but it is a risk I'm willing to take," Ford told The Lebanon Democrat during a stop in Lebanon Saturday.
Ford's journeys through Tennessee continue, even after a two-week tour of the state during Congress's Easter break.
This weekend found Ford, a Memphis Democrat, in Lebanon, on hand as the keynote speaker for the Wilson County Civic League, the area's premier African-American civic organization.
Ford's speech gave a glimpse of the campaign he may run for the senate, one that attempts to tie real-world concerns of voters to complex issues of world trade and a long-term vision for the country.
Ford spoke to the crowd of the rising role of India and China in the world economy, saying the U.S. must work "smarter and harder" to maintain its own stable and growing economy with new and better jobs.
He also talked of an America no longer dependent on foreign oil, saying finding new energy sources could mean an end to the high prices at gas pumps that are now a stark reality.
"In 15 years, if we had a president who said we won't import another drop of oil from the Middle East," Ford began before being interrupted by applause. "We find ourselves on the cusp of these things."
"Some people say they get bored by this," Ford added later of his detailed view of the country's future. "I plan to run for senate next year, and I plan to talk about nothing else."
The geography of Ford's travels in Tennessee suggests his intentions to run for Senate are real even if his other actions as a would-be candidate suggest otherwise. Though Ford has not officially filed papers to run in the senate race with the Federal Election Commission, he is focusing much of his apparent campaign time in the state on two key areas – typically Republican East Tennessee and the so-called "donut counties" that surround Metropolitan Nashville.
The counties contiguous to Nashville, including Wilson County, have become a new base of strength for the Tennessee Republican Party. Control of the Tennessee State Senate was wrestled from Democrats by the GOP for the first time since Reconstruction due to wins in growth-heavy Sumner, Wilson and Rutherford Counties over the last two election cycles.
Ford has also focused on culling resources from his hometown of Memphis and the 9th Congressional District which he serves. With the aid of popular Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, he recently held what Ford maintained was the largest campaign fund-raising event for any federal candidate in Memphis history.
Ford told the newspaper he is working toward a senate run, adding the formality of filing papers to run is not important to voters.
"It's going to come," Ford said. "I don't see an appetite for an 18-month senate race. People want us to talk about what matters."
To date, much of the coverage of Ford and his potential campaign have focused on the imbroglios of his uncle, State Sen. John Ford.
The older John Ford has been caught up in a State Senate ethics investigation into consulting contracts with vendors who service the state's TennCare health care program and other state funded entities. There is also a federal grand jury investigation in Memphis into John Ford's finances.
However, Congressman Ford has been building what appears to be a complex platform for his senate bid while on the trail in Tennessee, some of which was on display during the Saturday night speech in Lebanon.
Ford called the federal budget process in Congress "corrupt" in his conversation with The Democrat, and added he wants to see a Constitutional amendment that would require Congress to deliver a balanced federal budget.
It is a change from Ford's original position when he took office in the 1990s, one he says he arrived at after witnessing the federal budget process firsthand.
It is also a likely centerpiece to Ford's case that he is a fiscal conservative. He referenced his membership in the moderate to conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition in Congress, saying that group sees a "paygo" – or pay as you go – approach to the federal budget as an answer.
"The process must be reformed," Ford said. "It is a corrupt system for Congress to vote on a budget that is not balanced."
In addition to the balanced budget amendment, energy reform and economic strength, Ford hits on President George W. Bush's agenda and record as he travels Tennessee.
Ford, who was the national co-chair for the John Kerry presidential campaign, appears acutely aware he will be running statewide in a solidly "red" Bush state.
For instance, Ford said he agreed with the president on pursuing Saddam Hussein and the Iraq war. He couches that statement by adding it is troubling from an intelligence perspective that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq – an echo of the Kerry campaign.
Ford is alternately respectful and dismissive of Bush's policies.
"I agree with some of the things the president has done," Ford told the Civic League audience. "I agreed with taking Saddam Hussein out. I get into trouble with my party for saying that."
For many political observers, the real question for Ford is simply how will a Democrat from the state's most urban district play in the rest of George W. Bush's Tennessee?
Ford is clearly in the game from a fund-raising standpoint, having out-raised all Republicans vying on the other side of the aisle for their party's senate nomination for the year's first quarter.
However, when asked how his complex message will play against two known conservative voices – former Congressmen Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant – Ford suggests he would welcome a debate with the GOP Class of 1994 alumni.
"They were there in '94," Ford said. "We have a bigger government today then we ever did then. You must match the rhetoric with the record."