Elections '06: Tennessee Senate

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Here’s an irony for you. I’ve only seen one candidate in my lifetime of covering politics who had the skill, the instincts and the energy of Harold Ford Jr. His name was George Corley Wallace.

Conservative libertarian Frank Cagle, Metro Pulse, October 10, 2006.

Harold Ford, Jr. [govmarkwarner / Flickr]

Tennessee voters haven’t elected a Democratic Senator in 16 years and they haven’t elected a black Senator since Reconstruction. Harold Ford, Jr. is out to buck both trends. He faces Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker. Bill Frist is vacating the post to think presidential thoughts.

Luckily for Ford, Tennesseans traditionally vote geographic loyalties, not racial ones. Voters have inherited Civil War-era allegiances, when eastern TN counties sided with the Union and western ones went to the Confederacy. Today, western Memphis skews Democratic, eastern Knoxville is solidly Republican, and Nashville, right in the middle, is the battleground to watch. Racial animosities that tore up the South in the 50s and 60s never really hit in Tennessee, thanks largely to local Yellow-Dog Dems who voted through civil rights legislation. So today, a Chattanoogan might vote for a black Democrat like Ford, but he’d never vote for a man from Memphis.

All this to say that the recent campaign buzz playing up the racial divide in this race seems out of character for Tennessee. An attack ad against Ford features a shadowy dark figure and a black cross; Ford alleges that the Corker campaign darkened his complexion in campaign literature and wrote that he “tries to pass” as a conservative.

Subtext of “passing” aside, Ford is well aware that he needs to appeal to conservatives if he’s going to win this race. Al Gore was massively popular as Senator here, but he lost the state in 2000 when he adpoted more liberal positions on gun control and abortion rights. Ford is a Tennessee Democrat to the core: he’s pro-life, he supports gun rights, the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq. As Congressman, he’s voted with Republicans on the estate tax, school prayer, and flag burning, and he illustrates points with constant references to God, the Bible, and Ronald Reagan.

For Corker, the main challenge will be to convince voters that he’s more conservative than Ford. Beating fiercely conservative challengers in the primary meant that Corker alienated his base on the far right; now that he faces a moderate, voters like joe public say they have trouble distinguishing between the two.

Tell us your impressions of the race, offer parallels to local races where you are, or, if you’re inspired, give us a 300 word essay on Knoxville bluegrass, Nashville country, or Memphis blues. We’ll read the best ones on air.

Help create our reading list on the 2006 Election Wiki.

Tom Humphrey

Columnist, Knoxville News Sentinel

Rob Huddleston

Blogger, VOLuntaryConservative

Knoxville lawyer

Former blogger, Ed Bryant for Senate (Bryant challenged Bob Corker in the primary.)

Randy Neal

Blogger, KnoxViews

John Jay Hooker

Described on Wikipedia as “attorney, entrepreneur, perennial candidate and political gadfly”

We talked to blogger Jim Reams, of Nashville Knucklehead, to get his take on one of the hotter topics this election year: immigration.

Click to listen to Jim Reams (683.6 KB MP3)

One of Jim’s passions, and full-time profession, is barbecue. He got us Yankees straight on what distinguishes Nashville barbeque from Memphis barbecue and Memphis barbecue from Kansas barbeque.

Click to listen to Jim Reams (826 KB MP3)

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  • when western TN counties sided with the Union and eastern ones went to the Confederacy.

    a little detail from wiki:

    Capture of Memphis and Nashville gave the Union control of the western and middle sections; this control was confirmed at the battle of Murfreesboro in early January 1863. But the Confederates held East Tennessee despite the strength of Unionist sentiment there, with the exception of extremely pro-Confederate Sullivan County.

  • jdyer

    Marty Peretz of The New Republic had this to say about Ford.


    I don’t really know Representative Harold Ford Jr., who is the Democratic candidate for the seat now held by retiring Bill Frist. But I’ve met Ford, and friends of mine in Tennessee admire him. National Review’s Rich Lowry grasps that he is one smart politician.

    Moreover, he’s actually close to his constituents. He is a churched man, and national defense is not a matter that he hopes won’t come up in questions. Doubtless, as Lowry concedes, Ford is handicapped since his state hasn’t elected a black man to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction. If Ford wins and if Lieberman wins and if a few other centrists win, this may be the end of the left’s hijacking of the party. Or, as my mother used to say in Yiddish, “From your mouth to God’s ears.” ”


    I haven’t been following the Ten. race but if Ford is the centrist that Marty thinks he is I am ready to move to that State and vote for him.

    I would very much like to see the Democratic party of Hubert Humphrey, Mondale, and Lieberman &Co. restored.

    I also hope that Marty gets invited to share his ideas on the program.

  • Jdyer: We’ve been restricting our guests on each one of our midterm shows to local or regional experts on the race and area. So unless you’re talking about a hitherto unknown Tennessean named Marty Peretz, he won’t be joining us tonight!

  • jdyer

    Marty Peretz is the editor of The New Republic.

    Maybe you can have him some other time.

  • mamer

    This show was one of the most interesting I have heard.

    As a southerner, I was particularly interested in hearing some on the

    show say that many white Tennesseans (SP??) may vote for Jr. simply to

    prove they can and will do it!!

    Did it come out that Jr. is Ivy League Educated ??…UPENN…

    Penn is very proud to claim him!!

  • pryoung

    Yes, what a missed opportunity to invite on Mr. Peretz, whose expertise on Tennessee politics would surely have leavened the conversation. He may be hard to book, given the demands placed upon him by continuing his sterling record of book publication, presiding over the ever-growing subscription numbers at the New Republic and regularly penning the thoughtful, informed and measured entries in his well-regarded blog, “The Spine”.

    But yes, by all means, maybe a future show, one dealing perhaps with the art of marrying well and profitably, or of concealing your intellectual deficiencies with name-dropping and epithets.

  • legfederal

    The statement in the essay, “Ford is pro-life,” is a gross distortion. I surmise that the writer gullibly accepted Ford’s recently adopted description of himself as “pro-life,” without checking Ford’s 10-year voting record in the House of Representatives.

    Over that decade, Ford voted against the pro-life side 87 percent of the time.

    Ford’s recent attempt to adopt the “pro-life” label is merely a cynical marketing strategy. He knows it won’t upset the pro-abortion advocacy groups, because they — like we — are well acquainted with his voting record.

    On various major abortion-related issues, Ford was the ONLY member of the Tennessee House delegation, Democrat or Republican, to vote on the pro-abortion side.

    For example, Ford was the ONLY Tennessee Congressman to vote for federal funding of elective abortion on demand (when he voted to repeal the Hyde Amendment in 1997).

    Ford was also the ONLY member of the Tennessee House delegation to vote against the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act in 2002 — a law that merely protects health care providers who do not wish to participate in providing abortions.

    In 2003, Ford and Rep. Jim Cooper were the ONLY Tennessee members of Congress, House or Senate, to oppose “Laci and Conner’s Law,” which recognizes an unborn child injured or killed in a violent federal crime as a bona fide crime victim. This bill did not even apply to abortion, but it was opposed on ideological grounds by the pro-abortion advocacy groups, and so Ford opposed it, too. (Ford gets high ratings from such groups, corresponding to the abysmal ratings he has always received from National Right to Life and other pro-life groups.)

    Even on the rare occasions on which Ford has voted to pass a pro-life bill, it is usually after he has voted for unsuccessful gutting amendments. For example, Ford voted to pass the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in 2002 and 2003, but only after voting for unsuccessful hostile amendments that would have rendered the bill meaningless. (Before 2000, Ford repeatedly voted against passing the bill at all.)

    Ford recently said that he wants to “eliminate abortions.” But he supports Roe v. Wade, which requires states to allow abortion for any reason into the sixth month, and even during the seventh month and later if an abortionists says that the abortion would be helpful for a woman’s emotional “health.” It is impossible to curb abortion on demand until the Supreme Court changes that radical ruling — but as a U.S. senator, Harold Ford, Jr., would have a vote that could help block new nominees to the Supreme Court.

    National Right to Life has prepared a three-page memo that describes Ford’s voting record in more detail. The memo (in PDF format), and all of the National Right to Life scorecards for abortion-related votes in Congress for the past 10 years, are posted here: http://www.capwiz.com/nrlc/home/

    Douglas Johnson

    Legislative Director

    National Right to Life

    Washington, D.C.


  • Greta

    Hi legfederal,

    It seems Ford’s position on abortion rights is more contentious than I thought. I’ve read that, like Corker, Ford claims to have had a ‘conversion moment’ on the issue:

    Ed O’Keefe wrote this about Ford’s recent interview with George Stephanopoulos:

    “When he first arrived in the House a decade ago, Ford voted against a ban on partial birth abortions, but has since voted in favor of such a ban numerous times. The Congressman explained the contradiction.

    ‘It was a personal decision on my part. It had nothing to do with anything other than seeing something that said, ‘You know what? The other side has a point on this,’ ” he told ABC News. ‘And I’m just a believer that we don’t advance the cause of life nor do we advance any effort to promote a woman’s inalienable rights or Supreme Court protected rights by allowing partial birth abortions. So I decided differently.'”

    Here’s an article from Memphis about how slippery he’s been on that issue recently:


  • rneal

    Greta, you’re kidding, right? You link to Free Republic? Please.

    Anyway, Ford is pro-life. I am pro-life. My mom and dad and my wife’s mom and (late) dad are pro-life. Some of us, though, including Harold Ford Jr. are against criminalizing medical procedures. Some of us are against injecting politics into a decision that is up to a woman, her physician, and/or her family and clergy.

    I don’t think there are many people anywhere, including me, my aforementioned family, or Harold Ford Jr., who think that late-term abortions are a good thing.

    At any rate, Harold Ford Jr. has said repeatedly in many public forums that he does not believe that such medical decisions by women and their doctors should be criminalized. Ford has also co-sponsored bi-partisan legislation for a program to reduce the number of abortions by 90%. How about that as a first step to solving the real social issue? Or does it always have to come down to “either/or”, “against us/with us”?

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  • Greta

    Sorry to impinge on your sense of journalistic integrity, Randy. What’s the deal with Free Republic?

    I thought it was interesting that such a conservative blog was quoting this (legit?) newspaper; thought it lended some conserva-cred that might catch legfederal’s eye.

    Have you considered speechwriting for the Ford campaign?

  • rneal

    Greta, sorry, don’t mean to sound harsh. One problem with the freeper link you posted is that it looks like someone improperly copied and pasted an entire copyrighted article from the Memphis paper. That seems to happen a lot over there. But the worst thing is you have to wade through all the right-wing hate speech comments that accompany any article on divisive issues like this.

    The article itself is yet another attack on Ford and his record and his position on the issue. I’m not sure his opponent needs any more help from Free Republic to do that. On the issue itself, both candidates seem to have some ambiguity, although Ford’s opponent has hardened his position somewhat for the campaign.

    What this suggests to me is that both candidates realize that this is a controversial, divisive issue that both would probably prefer to keep out of politics, despite right-to-life groups insistence that it be kept in the forefront.

    It also suggests that both candidates have given thoughtful consideration to the issue and formed their own opinions and positions based on the law and their own conscience. I think it’s pretty clear where both candidates stand today and how they would vote in the Senate. If you want to outlaw abortion, Corker’s probably your guy. If you want abortions to be rare but legal, Ford’s your guy. As far as I can tell, beyond that this is not a big issue in the minds of voters, with the exception of a small bloc of single-issue “values voters.”

    The Ford campaign does not need me as a speechwriter. Ford does a pretty good job on his own. We went to a rally just yesterday:




    …and every time you see him in person giving a speech it becomes more and more obvious why he’s doing so well and so much better than anyone expected. As for me, I’ll just keep blogging and encouraging everyone I know to look at both candidates and make the right choice, which is Ford. Heh.

  • Right Democrat

    Harold Ford has endorsed a pro-life Democratic plan called the 95-10 Initiative which could lower the abortion rate by 95% within 10 years. As a Congressman, Ford has joined as a co-sponsor of the 95-10 proposal legislation which is pro-woman and pro-life. I applaud Ford for supporting this creative legislation that will benefit pregnant women and their children.



  • nother

    Greta, I enjoyed this show, the guests and questions were great, thank you.

    Also, thank you for blogging and contributing to the thread. I’m starting to see more of this from the staff and I feel it’s essential for the future of ROS. When you blog we know you are listening and our comments become more thought out. When you blog you sometimes stimulate a stagnant thread. When you blog the top down dynamic is eliminated and we thus become equal bloggers curious about the truth.

  • legfederal

    Rneal and RightDemocrat have repeated that Mr. Ford wants to “reduce” the number of abortions. But that is just a verbal formula that Mr. Ford has adopted on advice of political consultants, employed earlier by Bill Clinton and other pro-abortion officeholders. It has nothing to do with Mr. Ford’s 10-year VOTING RECORD in the U.S. House of Representatives. Mr. Ford has voted, on every occasion the issue has come up, to fund elective abortions without limitation — despite a great deal of empirical evidence that restricting such funding has resulted in many fewer abortions (a fact that pro-abortion advocacy groups acknowledge, and lament).

    To say it another way, Mr. Ford has been absolutely consistent in voting to repeal any law that restricts federal funding of elective abortion. He voted to repeal the Hyde Amendment, and was the only Tennessee House member from either party to vote that way; that attempt failed, but if successful, it would have resulted in federal funding of from 325,000 to 675,000 abortions per year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

    He voted for federal funding of abortion for elective abortions for federal employees, and even for incarcerated federal felons.

    Across the board, Mr. Ford voted against the pro-life side 87 percent of the time. The other 13% consistently mostly of situations in which he voted for unsuccessful killer amendments to bills, after which he voted to pass the bill that he’d just tried to gut — like the ban on partial-birth abortion.

    Details here: http://www.capwiz.com/nrlc/home/

    Douglas Johnson

    Legislative Director

    National Right to Life