Ed Bryant seems a sure thing for a U.S. Senate race in 2006. Marsha Blackburn is noncommittal. And Harold Ford Jr., who may have other fish to fry, is iffy.
Those conclusions -- which presuppose that current GOP majority leader Bill Frist will vacate his seat so as to prepare a presidential run in 2008 -- are based on interviews with Republicans Bryant and Blackburn over the weekend and on scuttlebutt concerning Ford that is rapidly escalating into Conventional Wisdom.
To start with the latter: Though the 9th District's soon-to-be-34-year-old U.S. representative would stoutly deny any lack of interest in his congressional duties, Ford is known to be much more preoccupied with the national scene -- and with his own prospects there.
Hardly an evening goes by -- and certainly not a whole week -- without an appearance by Ford on some or another prime-time political talk show. Moreover, big-time national pundits -- like David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times and The Weekly Standard, who gushed about Ford to fellow reporters in Iowa one afternoon -- often react to the congressman like starstruck fans on a movie lot.
If Ford were, in fact, in an entertainment field, he might already be at the top -- a la Elvis or Michael Jackson or any other shooting star. But he isn't. Au contraire. As a career, politics is characterized by slow and incremental steps.
If Frist follows through on the two-term-only pledge he took when first elected to the Senate in 1994, his seat will in fact be open in 2006. And the likelihood of that is enhanced by the senator's need to be unencumbered as he looks forward to an all-but-certain presidential race in 2008.
Ford knows that a Senate bid in 2006 won't be a walk in the park. The complicating factors include those of race and relationships -- does being an African American still matter? does being the nephew of state Senator John Ford? -- as well as the simple fact that Tennessee has been tending Republican in recent years.
The latest buzz is that Ford may get to bypass the trial-by-fire of a statewide run in 2006. He is national co-chair of the presidential campaign of Massachusetts senator John Kerry, who is both the odds-on favorite to become the Democratic nominee and currently leading President Bush in certain polls.
Should Kerry win, current talk goes, Ford will get a cabinet position -- the post of secretary of education would be a good fit -- and would have leapfrogged his way to national prominence.
Meanwhile, the Republicans: Former 7th District congressman Bryant, who was beaten in the 2002 Senate primary by current incumbent Lamar Alexander, made it clear at last weekend's annual GOP Lincoln Day Dinner that he wants to try again for the Senate in 2006. "The old network is still in place," he noted.
Bryant is sure to be opposed by Chattanooga GOP congressman Zach Wamp, but his severest test might come from fellow Republican Marsha Blackburn, who handily defeated several other contenders for the right to succeed Bryant in 2002.
Blackburn was at Lincoln Day too, but she declined to look so far ahead in 2006, preferring to focus on pending legislation and her current status as an assistant Republican whip in the House. But she almost certainly should be counted in as a Senate contender.
In a speech last year to local Republicans, Bryant suggested that Blackburn might be a candidate for the governorship in 2006. He wishes.
In fact, as various ranking Republicans conceded at Lincoln Day, state Republicans are going to play hell finding someone credible to run against incumbent Democratic governor Phil Bredesen, whose suggestions last week for shrinking TennCare (see Editorial) basically recapped official Republican proposals of recent years -- as, indeed, have many of the programs so far enacted by the budget-conscious incumbent.
• Quote of the Week: "I don't want to meet him outside. I want to meet him at the Health Department. I want him to piss in a cup so we can see what he's on." -- Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor on his altercation last week with Mayor Willie Herenton at a contentious meeting between the council and the mayor.