Harold Ford Jr.’s fundraiser at the Hilton on ‘Ridgelake Boulevard Wednesday night was a big-time social event at one level and a serious real-world enterprise on another. Though the invitation (signed onto by 80 sponsors!) bore the words “Releect Harold Ford," the event was fairly universally seen as an effort to build a kitty for the 9th District congressman’s long-expected U.,S. Senate race in 2006.

That’s what all the talk has been about for months now in political circles, and that’s what the multitude of attendees who showed up Wednesday night were talking about. A word about those attendees, a truly diversified host: There were belles and bankers, architects and entrepreneurs, lawyers and legislators, judges and jukers, pols and peepers: At $1,000 a head for the top ticket, the turnout might well have been good enough to reach the designated goal of $1 million -- even making allowances for all the lesser players and outright comps on hand.

Oh, and one of the attendees -- the guest of honor, in fact -- was a governor, Tennessee’s own Democratic chief executive, Phil Bredesen, who chose to appear on Rep. Ford’s behalf despite the fact that a state senator from his party, Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, one of those whom the governor depends upon to pass his legislation, is already a declared candidate for the very U.S. Senate seat that Ford is presumed about to seek.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” Kurita said by telephone later Wednesday night “The only thing I can conclude is that the congressman really is running for reelection, and the governor is entirely within his rights to support him. He attended many a fundraiser for me when I was running for reelection to the state senate.”

Kurita refused even to countenance the idea that, with Ford conspicuously on the cusp of decision about the Senate race, Bredesen’s help with the gala big-money fundraiser might -- quite literally -- tip the scales for the mediagenic congressman.

“He’s running for reelection to Congress,” Kurita said again, with the air of one dutifully -- or wishfully -- repeating a mantra.

She elaborated: “Don’t you think it’s interesting that I’m declared, Ed Bryant is declared, Beth Harwell is declared, Bob Corker is declared, and Van Hilleary is declared, and he [Ford] isn’t declared? I take him at his word that he’s running for reelection. This is March! We’ve got the Senate field. Anybody who’s serious about running should be there by now.”

Kurita vented what sounded like competitive instincts regarding Ford only once, when she was informed that the congressman’s fundraiser had been proclaimed -- at least formally -- off limits to the media,

“But it’s a public office!” she said. “The whole point is to serve the people It’s not something you do for the elite or for those who give you money. Running for office is something that should be done in public, not behind closed doors. I can’t imagine barring the media from a fundraiser!”

Even if access to Ford’s fundraiser turned out not to be universal, advance word concerning it surely had been. For some weeks, it -- like a follow-up fundraiser coming up next week in Nashville -- had been ballyhooed far and wide in the political community of Tennessee,

That made it all the more baffling that state Senator John Ford, whose problems with the Senate Ethics Committee, the state Election Registry, and various other corners of officialdom have been even more widely publicized, professed Wednesday in Nashville not to know that his congressman nephew was having a fundraiser in Memphis that night.

“Really?” he said, looking genuinely puzzled. It was a big deal, Senator Ford was told. A thousand dollars a head. The senator smiled. “That ain’t much!” he said, probably ironically.

It is much, of course, especially when one considers the size of Rep. Ford’s crowd Wednesday night. But state Senator Ford, whose predicament is considered by many the proximate cause of his nephew’s hesitation about running, may have been preoccupied. The latest installment of his several running confrontations with authority was slated as soon as Thursday morning, when the Ethics Committee was scheduled to meet again.

“I’m about fed up with all that stuff, with people impugning my integrity,” Ford said. “I’m getting ready to drop some libel suits on ‘em!”

It’s a fair bet that his celebrated nephew, evidently still trying to make up his mind, would just as soon the fuss and bother came to an end, too.

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