By ERIK SCHELZIG
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 8, 2006; 12:41 AM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Republican Bob Corker beat Democratic Rep. Harold Ford for departing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's seat, giving the GOP a rare bit of good news after a tight race in which both candidates claimed the deeper Tennessee roots.
Ford, who had hoped to become the first Southern black senator since Reconstruction, comes from a prominent political family that Corker had attempted to use against him.
Ford often said that his campaign would transcend the tired racial politics of Tennessee's past, and Corker, a former Chattanooga mayor, insisted race had nothing to do with the campaign.
The issue, however, was always an undercurrent, especially when an ad produced by the Republican National Committee hit the airwaves. A portion of it shows a white woman with blonde hair and bare shoulders who looks into the camera and whispers, "Harold, call me," and winks. Critics said it made an implicit appeal to deep-seated racial fears about black men and white women; the RNC denied it had any racial subtext, but Corker called the ad tacky and said it should stop running.
Ford, a Memphis congressman, had been the Democratic hope to make inroads for a party on the outs in the South. His need to appeal to white voters was especially great because Tennessee has a smaller black population (about 17 percent) than other Southern states.
Corker, 54, has a low-key style that was a contrast to Ford's more charismatic presence. The Republican tried to defuse his lesser celebrity by acknowledging Ford's superior looks and speaking skills while selling voters on his own experience as a business executive, his problem-solving skills and his ability to "bring people together."
Ford, 36, sought to shape the election as a referendum on President Bush and Republican policies of the past six years. He has strongly criticized how the president has handled the war in Iraq.
"I can't imagine how they could have messed it up more," he said.
Corker painted Ford as a Washington insider, a liberal politician trying to persuade voters he's really a conservative. He regularly compared Ford to Sens. John Kerry and Edward Kennedy, both Massachusetts Democrats.
"I'm someone who's been right here in Tennessee, who's lived a Tennessee life and I want to take those Tennessee values to Washington," Corker said on the campaign.
Ford, who grew up in Washington because his father was a congressman, shot back that Corker wasn't even born in Tennessee. "He's a Gamecock" from South Carolina, Ford said. (Corker moved to Tennessee when he was 11.)
And Ford bristled at the suggestion that he's more style than substance.
"I didn't know being able to express yourself clearly was a detriment in politics," he told a Chattanooga radio station.