In Brief Homecoming, Ford Gets Some Help from His Friends 

Candidate challenges polls results showing Republican foe ahead.

Jetting back and forth across the state of Tennessee on Saturday, U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford found time to make a quick trip to Memphis for a press conference-cum-rally at the intersection of Poplar and Highland. Mainly he looked to be in search of some fortification from his friends.

The brief Memphis appearance came after Ford had hosted a tailgate party before the UT-LSU game in Knoxville, and afterward he was off again for elsewhere in Tennessee. Coincidentally or not, the event in Memphis was scheduled for a 4 p.m. start (though Ford, who came directly from the airport, was a good hour late getting there), and 4 pm.was also the scheduled start for 9th District congressional candidate Steve Cohen’s rally at his Poplar Avenue headquarters in Midtown.

A number of people – like former NAACP head Maxine Smith, who supports both candidates -- made an effort to be both places, but the overlap made that difficult. Members of the Ford family, less conflicted, were out in force at Poplar and Highland. Former congressman Harold Ford Sr. was there, with his young son Andrew. Dorothy Ford, Rep. Ford’s mother, was there, as were her two other sons, Isaac and Jake. (The latter, running as an independent against Democratic nominee Cohen, had no role in proceedings, however. Ophelia Ford, Harold Jr.’s aunt and a candidate for state Senate in District 29, was also present.

“This is home,” Rep. Ford said once he got the site. “You want the people who’ve worked with you, who’ve prayed with you the most to be there.” All the while the Memphis congressman spoke, first to the press and then to his crowd of supporters, cars coming down Poplar and spying the demonstration, replete with an abundant number and kind of campaign signs, honked in support.

And, besides the cars and the cards and his crowd of well-wishers, Ford had a brand-new backer to show off – Collierville mayor Linda Kerley, who stood alongside him as he spoke.

Much of what Ford said was a rehash of his usual stump speech, as he cited administration misdeeds in relation to Hurricane Katrina, the Foley scandal, health care costs, gas prices, and “staying the course” in Iraq.

But he also devoted much time to the issue of polls that, for the last several days, had shown a once neck-and-neck race tilted significantly to his Republican opponent, Bob Corker.

One such survey, the Rasmussen poll, which had shown an almost overnight gap of seven points added to what had been a one-point lead for Corker, was being rethought, Ford said. So unprecedented was the change, said Ford, that “Rasmussen’s going back to do his poll.”

That and other “public polls” were showing results at variance with more scientific surveys being taken by the two parties, Ford said, insisting that all of them, including those commissioned by opponent Corker or by the Republican National Committee, showed a dead heat.

Among the things that Ford said were overlooked by the polls publicized last week was early voting. “Almost half the people of Tennessee have already voted,” he said, giving the early-voting total as 857,000. Of that number, Democrats had voted disproportionately, especially in Shelby County, where Democratic vote totals were up 34 percent over the off-year elections of 2002, while the increase in Republican votes was only 20 percent, he said.

Ford said the fact that Corker “had to lend himself $2 million last week” and that he’d put “six new negative ads” up belied the week’s published poll results and showed his opponent to be a “desperate man.”

Asked if the one-sided poll results might have a chilling effect on voter turnout, Ford said there was “no doubt” that “Karl Rove, Bob Corker, and the RNC [Republican National Committee]”want to use the figures “to influence” the outcome.

“This is what it’s about, “he said “It’s about voter turnout.” He added, “Karl Rove just left Nashville two days ago. If you want to beat Karl Rove, go to the polls and vote.”

Memphis is destined to figure large in Tuesday’s outcome, to judge by the two Senate candidate’s itineraries. Both were in Memphis on Friday – Corker for a brief rally at Jason’s Deli in Cordova, Ford for an appearance on a live TV segment with Fox News anchor Shepard Smith. And both have plans for major rallies here on election eve.

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