Thursday, September 15, 2005

FORD SQUEAKS BY ROLAND IN DISTRICT 29

Final precinct puts Democrat ahead by 12 votes.

Posted By on Thu, Sep 15, 2005 at 4:00 AM

It was back-and-forth for most of the evening, but when the final vote was totaled Thursday night in the District 29 state Senate race, Democrat Ophelia Ford was ahead by 12 votes – count ‘em, 12.

Her Republican opponent, Terry Roland, , refused to concede, however, telling a group of supporters at his Millington headquarters, “We’re still in the race,” and promising to “turn things over to the people who know how to handle things like this" -- presumably a team of both political and legal advisers.

A spokesman for the Roland campaign would subsequently promise to contest the outcome, saying, "We're going to bring in a shitload of attorneys," both from Tennessee and Washington. One of them, he said, might be former congressman Ed Bryant, now a U.S. Senate candidate.

The course of the election drama resembled somewhat the on-again, off-again, back-and-forth progress of the scaled-down East Coast hurricane, Ophelia, that bore the apparent winner’s name. The lead changed hands between Ford and Roland several times during the toting up Thursday evening, as she strove to overcome what had been a 450-vote lead held by Roland after the conclusion of early voting. Going into the counting of the last one of 60 precincts to be vouched for, Ford had been down by almost 80 votes.

”We were out at five minutes to 7, still scaring up votes for Ophelia,” said co-campaign manager David Upton about events earlier in what was, by any and all standards, a very tense evening.

Final unofficial totals, including early voting and absentee ballots and all 60 precincts from Thursday's voting were:
Ford - 4332
Roland - 4320

Perennial also-ran candidate Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges, running as an independent, had a total of 89 votes.

As push had come to shove late in the campaign, luminaries from both major parties had been pressed into service for the two standard-bearers. Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton led a phalanx of local Democrats doing last-minute robocalls for Ford in her effort to accede to the seat held for 30 years by her brother, John Ford. Meanwhile, state Republican chairman Bob Davis of Nashville, who was present Thursday night at Roland's Millington headquarters, personally took a hand in the GOP nominee's campaign. The seat had come open in late May when John Ford, freshly indicted in the Tennessee Waltz scandal and under fire for months due to other investigations, abruptly resigned it.

Much statewide attention was focused on the Ford-Roland race for the light it might shed on a variety of looming political subjects: the state of the Ford-family campaign apparatus; the possible shift of power in the General Assembly; the signals the outcome would send for races to come, including that of Senator-elect Ford's nephew, U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., now a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Long considered a stronghold for the Ford family and for Democratic candidates in general, District 29, which hugs the Mississippi River-front for almost the length of Shelby County, has a largely African-American population, but Roland's Republican team put forth intense efforts, especially in the Millington area.

Late in the game, it had become obvious to everyone on both sides that either candidate could win. Early Thursday, weather forecasts called for intermittent showers, a prospect that was thought to be more threatening for Ford, dependent on a working-class, less mobile constituency. But the rains never came.

Thus did Ophelia Ford, for the second time in a month, squeak by an opponent; her victory over state Rep. Henri Brooks, runner-up in last month's special Democratic primary, a multi-candidate affair, was by 20 votes— an outcome Brooks opted not to challenge legally after an appeal was denied by the state Democratic Party.

As indicated, Roland is unlikely to be so acquiescent. Alleging that a voting-machine cartridge was suspiciously missing from one of the district's precincts, a Roland ally, TeamGOP chairman Jeff Ward of adjacent Tipton County was calling for the state Senate to review the results.

And GOP chairman Davis fired off a letter Friday to state Attorney General Paul Summers asking Summers to investigate the election, citing "the alleged voting of convicted felons, unregistered voters, and an incident involving the questionable voter cartridges of the last precinct reporting."

To that, Shelby County Democratic chair Matt Kuhn, who had served as one of Ophelia Ford's last-minute robocallers, issued a formal response. "It is unfortunate that the Republican party has chosen to not accept defeat graciously and cast needless dispersions on our Election institutions," Kuhn's statement said in part. Kuhn also announced that Memphis lawyer Jim Strickland, a former party chairman, would "be prepared to issue a legal statement" as part of any subsequent process.

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