Underdog Ford Gets a Little Help From His Illinois Friend

Monday, November 6, 2006

NASHVILLE -- In his race for U.S. Senate, Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D) has been outspent by millions, and his image has been battered by a barrage of negative ads, including the now-infamous spot with a blonde floozy that has been pulled off the air. Several polls show him trailing.

But being an underdog has its own righteous appeal, and the campaign used that status yesterday not only to rally voters but as evidence that God had looked with favor upon the Democratic campaign.

The fact that they are still in the race despite the odds, Ford told an African American crowd at Mount Zion Baptist Church here, was evidence that "we got something else at work."

"I think the congressman said something wise -- we got another manager in this race," Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) told the group.

Ford probably needs the help. In his contest against Republican Bob Corker, a wealthy businessman and former mayor of Chattanooga, Ford faces formidable challenges, some of them purely demographic. He is a Democrat in a state that has been friendlier to Republicans. He is African American, and if elected he would be the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction. And his family members, including his father, have been the subject of political scandal.

It is one of the oddities of the campaign that no one seems too sure about what the polls are saying, because while they generally have Corker leading, the margin has differed widely. Some have suggested it is too close to call; others have shown Corker -- who campaigned in Nashville last night with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- ahead by eight points or more. While acknowledging what the other polls say, Ford tells crowds that his own polling shows him ahead by one point.

"There are some folks who still think he can't win," Obama told a diverse crowd at a downtown rally Sunday. "It doesn't matter how big the crowds are. . . . When I ran for office, folks said, 'He seems like a good guy, but let's face it: You can't elect somebody named Barack Obama.' They couldn't even pronounce my name. Called me 'Alabama.' Called me 'Yo mama.' And yet here I am."

-- Peter Whoriskey

© 2006 The Washington Post Company