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A Contentious Campaign in a Battleground State

Democrat Harold Ford Jr. is in a surprisingly close battle with Republican Bob Corker.
Democrat Harold Ford Jr. is in a surprisingly close battle with Republican Bob Corker. (By Mark Humphrey -- Associated Press)

Ford's rhetorical skills and good looks are particular targets. A new Corker ad features a series of ordinary-looking voters raising questions about Ford, with one woman asking "Has Junior ever had a job outside of politics?" and another noting "He does look good on TV."

Corker's attacks appear to have thrown Ford somewhat off-stride in recent days. The congressman showed up at a recent Corker news conference to insist that he stop criticizing the Ford family, a move Republicans called undignified. But some Republicans are concerned Corker is not working hard enough to whip up support in his party, in particular among the socially conservative voters who preferred his primary opponents, former representatives Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant.

"The differences need to be spelled out aggressively in the next few weeks," Frist said as the Senate majority leader campaigned with Corker in Athens, Tenn. Frist said Corker must convince Tennessee voters that he is "a genuine person who has their values."

While visiting a diner in Oak Ridge, Corker stopped to shake hands with Linda Ramsey, who was having lunch with her husband, Dale, and daughter Kelcee. Ramsey responded with a big smile when Corker asked for her vote. But when he moved to the next table, she conceded she was leaning toward Ford.

Although she supported Corker in the primary, Ramsey explained, "all he wants to do is point fingers. Ford is stepping up above it."

Ford is difficult to typecast -- conservative on some issues and liberal on others. In Coalmont, one of Ford's biggest applause lines came when he called for "character education" in public schools to teach the difference between right and wrong. But he also drew cheers when he suggested that the federal government take a bigger role in education.

Ford filmed a television ad inside the Memphis church he attended as a child, and he fondly recalls the times his maternal grandmother chased after him with a switch.

The state Democratic Party is working particularly hard to rally black voters. State party officials believe African Americans could push Ford over the top if they turn out in large numbers. In addition to clutching Bredesen's coattails, Ford has tethered himself to Rep. Lincoln Davis, a popular two-term Democrat from a rural, white central Tennessee district and the chairman of Ford's campaign.

Davis said he polled his district in July and found Ford trailing 49 percent to 35 percent. "I didn't even tell his campaign," Davis acknowledged.

New numbers came back a few weeks ago showing Ford ahead 49 percent to 39 percent. "He's a rock star, a superstar," Davis said. "And if he wins my district, he's the next senator from Tennessee."


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