BARNSTORMING: Running on Empty 

Fords break down, Corker pulls ahead.

True, the prodigal son, upon his return to the fold, was feasted with the choicest cuts from the fattest calf. But will the same be true for Harold Ford Jr. who's trying to become the Democratic senator from Tennessee by running away from his fellow Democrats? Will the poor guy even get a cheeseburger?

Like so many other commenters, I've accused our Junior of running a smart campaign, but that once-common assumption is rapidly coming undone. By positioning himself to the right of his Republican opponent Bob Corker on several key issues Ford girded himself against accusations of being a Moonbat, gracefully seized the center and, with the aid of a fawning national news media and generous out-of-state donors, he held on tight. But after series of crucial fourth-quarter fumbles (Wilson Air being the prime example), and an effective (if short lived) RNC-funded attack ad going after Ford's allegedly churchy values, it would appear that the 9th District congressman's Teflon coating has failed him, leaving him to prestidigitate the fluffy bunnies of victory into the empty hat of defeat. Now seems as good a time as any to reassess Junior's political savvy, and examine the various integers adding up to what could very well be the fall of Ford House.

From the opening buzzer Junior has not only written off his party's left flank, he has been openly antagonistic, bragging at every turn that he's the kind of Democrat that makes other Democrats mad. Conventional wisdom held that this was merely a political ploy to throw Republicans off their game.

The Green fringe notwithstanding, it was presumed that the liberals would play practical politics and vote for the Democratic majority no matter how hard or often Ford kicked at their teeth. A month ago, while the Congressman rode the center like a Rodeo king, this looked like the winning triangulation. Now, however, the first word that springs to mind is hubris. The center's slipping away fast, and the trench Ford dug between himself and left-of-center Democrats (who'd love to see an African American senator from Tennessee, but would really prefer to elect a Democrat that doesn't side with Republicans on key issues) is deep, wide, and stocked with hungry gators.

In Ford's rush-to-the-right he's made one major blunder in his failure to endorse and embrace the campaign of 9th District Democratic nominee Steve Cohen. Ford supporters have attempted to "aw shucks" the error away, hoping most voters will forgive Ford if his filial bond with brother/9th District independent candidate Jake Ford  prevents young Junior from openly endorsing his party's liberal nominee. In this the HFJ Army has underestimated Tennessee's fear that the Ford family's interest in the Ford family far outweighs their loyalty to things like city, state, and nation. Had Junior campaigned side by side with Cohen rather than running laissez-faire interference for brother Jake, the family issue would be moot. Cohen would be the ivory in an ebony district to Ford's ebony in an ivory state. He would be the left to Junior's right, a Talmud tapper to complement Ford's Bible thumping.  Yins, yangs, and all that trash.

The ugly race-, faith-, and gay- baiting that began in the 9th Congressional District's primary have carried over into the general, and some of Jake Ford's strongest support comes from black religious leaders like Rev. LaSimba Gra, who has been quoted in local and national publications suggesting that a white Jew can't represent a black Christian district, and speculating as to whether or not Cohen is a closeted homosexual. Needless to say, this is no more likely to sit well with Tennessee's Jewish community than a Klan rally would in Orange Mound. Should Corker best Ford by 10,000 votes or less it's probably safe to assume half that number or better were Jewish Junior supporters who soured on Jake.

When former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Sr. left his cushy compound in Florida to lend support to his unqualified and ill-tempered son Jake, a cold shiver ran through the collective body of Tennessee centrists. Senior's rhetoric smacked of racism, and of family entitlement. It was also a huge reminder that papa Ford is now a big-time lobbyist who makes his cheese based on what does and doesn't get done in D.C. At a time when K Street's getting more jeers than cheers, keeping Jake in the race and bringing the family business into play was what political experts commonly refer to as a "boneheaded stunt."

Unless Bob Corker's daughters appear in a legitimate Girls Gone Wild commercial sometime in the next three days, it seems very likely that the miniature former mayor of Chattanooga will be going to D.C. and that Harold Ford Jr. will be coming home to -- wherever it is he actually considers home. Why? Because a candidate who runs as a Democrat but fails to support his fellow Democrats runs on a platform, not of centrism, but of disloyalty. And because even if the national media chooses to tell another story, a goodly number of west Tennesseans know where the worst politics is being played, and who is behind it all.

The mainstream media sounded like Air America last week (and Air America sounded like idiots) when somebody sniffed a hint of racism in the RNC's now infamous "Call Me" ad. Snapping at that red herring, they've all missed the boat on Tennessee's truly racist front. By not endorsing Steve Cohen or at the very least denouncing the racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic tactics being used against his fellow Democratic nominee and on behalf of his brother, Harold Ford Jr. is complicit in racist games far more insidious overt and defamatory than anything in the RNC's shady little commercial.

Maybe he gets a cheeseburger. Maybe.

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