Monday saw Harold Ford Jr. take one step back from active involvement in Tennessee politics and one step forward.
The former Memphis congressman formally removed himself from the Tennessee gubernatorial sweepstakes for 2010, urging his supporters "to align with one of the other Democrats running." And on the same day Tennessee Democratic chairman Chip Forrester announced that Ford will be the keynote speaker at the party’s annual Jackson Day Dinner on May 30 in Franklin.
Ford's announcement of non-candidacy ends several months of uncertainty in Democratic ranks about his intentions and, as his statement indicated, freed up the prospects for other potential candidates and for the donors and supporters who had so far held back from committing to a candidate.
The Democrats who have thus far indicated their intention to run are state senator Roy Herron of Dresden, Nashville businessman Ward Cammack, and former state House majority leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville. Among those still considering their options are businerssman Mike McWherter of Jackson, the son of former Gov. Ned McWherter; state Senator Andy Berke of Chattanooga; and state Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis.
Republicans so far in the race include District Attorney General Bill Gibbons of Memphis; Mayor Bill Haslam of Knoxville; 3rd District congressman Zach Wamp of Chattanooga; and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville.
In his statement, made via an email to a network of potential supporters, Ford said pointedly, "There will be another race and time to ask for your support." And he offered this rebuff to the rival GOP: "Our Republican friends running for Governor will run predictably narrow campaigns that are out of sync with the time we live in and the challenges we face. They will ignore the economic hardship and uncertainty confronting an overwhelming number of Tennessee businesses and families in favor of focusing on issues like attacking President Obama and other national Democrats."
That drew a quick response from state GOP publicist Bill Hobbs, who characterized Ford's statement as "a bitter and false attack," took note of Republican victories in last fall’s legislative races in Tennessee, and maintained that it was Ford and the Democrats who were "out of touch."
Ford's scheduled address at the Jackson Day diner gives him an opportunity to reaffirm his presence as a force in state politics. He concluded his statement, "I will continue teaching at Vanderbilt University, speaking and writing on major issues and serving as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council."
The former congressman made no mention of his involvement with Bank of America, which last year bought and incorporated another Ford employer, the Merrill Lynch brokerage, but presumably that relationship, too, continues.