FORD ESCHEWS PARTISANSHIP AS STATEWIDE BUS TOUR ENDS.

Arriving at Memphis headquarters, the congressman aims broad appeals at Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

| April 13, 2006
Senate candidate Ford (r) with former Sen. Max Cleland and Henry Hooper at headquarters rally
Senate candidate Ford (r) with former Sen. Max Cleland and Henry Hooper at headquarters rally
- J.B.
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At the end of his first full day as the undisputed Democratic Party nominee for the U.S. Senate, 9th District congressman Harold Ford concluded a statewide bus tour in hometown Memphis with a brief, rousing – and highly non-partisan -- speech Thursday in front of his East Memphis headquarters.

Though Ford at one point made a respectful, even gallant reference to Clarksville state Senator Rosalind Kurita, who withdrew from the Democratic primary race on Wednesday, he made no effort to adapt any of the now departed Kurita’s sometimes militant Democratic rhetoric to his own style, which remained virtually free of any partisan inflections.

”I’m not a Democrat,” he said at one point, ‘running up to Washington yelling ‘Democrat, Democrat, Democrat, Democrat.’ Somebody’s going to go, and I know I make some Democrats upset at times because I’m just a believer if it works, you have to support it.”

In fact, were it not for the multiple uses of the word “Democrat” in that one sentence, Ford would have used the word “Republican” at least as often, if not more so, in his ten minutes or so of speaking after being introduced to the crowd in the Park Place parking lot by former Georgia Senator Max Cleland.

And the congressman was careful to be as value-neutral as possible in his terminology. No GOP-bashing, a la Howard Dean. (Or, for that matter, Harry Truman.)

Citing, as always, individual members of his audience, Ford acknowledged office-holders of both parties. Among the Republicans he called by name were “my friend” District Attorney Bill Gibbons and Sheriff Mark Luttrell. (“I didn’t mind,” said the unmentioned Reginald French, a Democratic candidate for sheriff.)

Luttrell, in fact, is a political near neighbor to Ford; his headquarters adjoins that of the congressman’s, a space which has historically been occupied by GOP campaigns; on the other side is the headquarters site of Shelby County mayor A C Wharton, a Democrat.

Ford’s ecumenical style at times made him sound like a candidate in a local non-partisan race: “I don’t know of any Republican way of paying $69 dollar per barrel of oil. I don’t know of any Democratic way to lose your job. I don’t know of a Republican way to pay too much for prescription drugs. I don’t know of a Democrat way to run up the deficit. And I certainly don’t know of a Republican way to get a knock, on your door, Sidney Chism, saying Mr. Kirk, Commissioner Kirk, that’s your baby that’s dead.”

(The congressman’s even-handedness extended even to that carefully balanced mention of the two Democratic candidates for a county commission seat, Chism and incumbent Cleo Kirk; for the record, the term-limited Kirk is ineligible to serve but is campaigning nevertheless.)

The most direct reference Ford made to the three major candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the Senate came via a warning to the crowd that “terrible” things would be said by them about him and members of his family.

“There’s nothing you can say and do that will bring any distance between me and my family,” Ford declared. . “They’re my family, and they’re all I’ve got. But I want to say one thing: . I’m running, not them.”

He went on: “If you want to debate why it is that your party has votred for five years and run up a deficit, come ask me. If you want to debate why it is that you were in Congress …for two of the years that the president was there, and you voted to cut veterans’ spending, come talk to me. If you want to debate why health care is where it is, come talk to me. Let’s have that debate.”

Even Ford’s most direct appeal to traditional Democratic allegiances, at the end of his speech, was politically ambidextrous. “I’m proud to be your nominee for the Democratic Party. I’m going to make Republicans proud, and I will make independents proud. I will make this state proud.”

At his conclusion, Ford told the crowd, that, regardless of their partisan leanings, they should ignore the "bad things" they would hear about him and his family and, “if Republicans can defend Don Rumsfeld and George Bush, I know you can defend me."

To judge by a continuing bitterness toward Ford on the email networks and in the blogs of hard-core Democratic progressives in the wake of Kurita’s withdrawal, the congressman may have a harder time getting some of his own party-mates to defend him.

But he seems to have calculated that the prize he seeks among the voters of a politically variegated state is more likely to be won by blander and broader-based appeals like the ones in his speech Thursday night.

It will be up to Messrs. Ed Bryant, Van Hilleary, and Bob Corker, the three GOP Senate hopefuls, to make Ford seem more ‘Democrat, Democrat, Democrat, Democrat’ than he chooses to on his own.

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Among the Republicans among the diverse crowd at Ford's rally were D.A. Bill Gibbons (left) and Sheriff Mark Lutrell, whose own headquarters sign can be seen on the outside wall between Gibbons and Luttrell.
Among the Republicans among the diverse crowd at Ford's rally were D.A. Bill Gibbons (left) and Sheriff Mark Lutrell, whose own headquarters sign can be seen on the outside wall between Gibbons and Luttrell.
- J.B.

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