In one of those surprise developments which appear sensible and inevitable once they are thought about, Memphis State Sen. Ford has become the Ford political clan's congressional candidate-designate in the increasingly likely event that Rep. Ford actively seeks the Democratic nominate for the Senate seat being vacated by incumbent Republican Fred Thompson.
Sources close to key members of the Ford family and aware of their recent deliberations say that Rep. Ford has cast the die and will make the Senate race, although much preliminary work -- polls, organizational efforts, establishment of fundraising machinery, etc. -- remains to be done.
Rep. Ford and the Ford clan in general ultimately concluded that he would never face a better opportunity for seeking higher office than now, when the full bloom of his national media celebrity is upon him and an open seat is available; nor would as formidable a candidate in family ranks as Uncle John Ford necessarily be available several years down the line.
For all his eccentricies and frequent brushes with notoriety (ncluding frequent paternity suits, public marital disputes, and brushes with the law on weapons charges and other matters), the senator is a respected player in Nashville, where he chairs the Senate General Welfare, Health and Human Resources Committee and is a key member of the Finance and State and Local Government committees as well.
Rep. Ford, just back from a fact-finder in Afghanistan, spent Friday and Saturday calling influential Democrats and sounding them out about his making a race for the Senate this year. One of those called was Mayor Willie Herenton, who reportedly said he would be willing to support the most celebrated current member of a political family, the Fords of Memphis, with whom he has had a running feud.
Speculation on other possible Democratic candidates to succeed Republican Senator Fred Thompson continued at a lively pace, with most of it centering on other members of the state's Democratic congressional delegation.
Of these, the notoriously cautious John Tanner of the 8th District was considered a viable candidate but unlikely to take the gamble of a Senate race. Bart Gordon of the 6th District had not committed himself, while the 5th District's Bob Clement, who represents Nashville, is in the position of having possibbly cried wolf too many times on statewide races, so far exclusively in aborted gubernatorial runs. The Clement camp, however, was putting out firm and decisive-sounding signals about a race.
The names of Bartlett banker Harold Byrd, who recently withdrew from the Shelby County Mayor's race, and State Senator Steve Cohen have received some play, but Cohen indicated it was unlikely he would attempt another statewide race (he run unsuccessfully for governor in 1994).
A dark horse candidate is Memphis entrepreneur John Lowery, who is hoping to put his business (Revelation Corporation) on a sound enough, self-sustaining basis in the next month so that he could consider running.
"If none of the congressmen end up doing it, I'm in," Lowery said on Friday.
As it happens, an ex-congressman has expressed some interest as well -- former U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, now a consultant living in Nashville, who lost the 1994 special election that saw Thompson first elected to the Senate.
Another potential candidate mulling over a race is Jim Hall, the Chattanogan who was a key aide to former Governor Ned McWherter and headed the National Transportation Safety Board under former President Clinton.