By Perry Bacon Jr.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010; A02
Former congressman Harold E. Ford Jr. has decided against challenging Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), ending a potential primary fight that Democrats in Washington and New York had actively discouraged.
"I've examined this race in every possible way, and I keep returning to the same fundamental conclusion: If I run, the likely result would be a brutal and highly negative Democratic primary -- a primary where the winner emerges weakened and the Republican strengthened," Ford wrote in an opinion article in Tuesday's New York Times. "I refuse to do anything that would help Republicans win a Senate seat in New York, and give the Senate majority to the Republicans."
Ford had moved to New York after a failed Senate run in 2006 in his home state of Tennessee, and he had flirted for more than a month with a run against Gillibrand, who was appointed last year to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. His decision could ease the path to victory this fall for Gillibrand, who was a popular House member from Upstate New York but was considered vulnerable to a strong Democratic challenger because she is not well known in much of the state.
Ford served five terms in the House, in the Memphis-area seat that his father had held before him. In 2006, he gave up the House to run for the Senate but lost to Republican Bob Corker. Ford was credited with running a strong campaign in the traditionally Republican state, but he struggled with gaffes in his month-long exploration in New York.
Asked by the Times in January if he had visited all five boroughs in New York City, he noted a helicopter ride to Staten Island with other business executives, saying, "I landed there in the helicopter, so I can say yes."
In his opinion article, Ford, a vice president at Merrill Lynch, criticized the actions of "Democratic Party insiders who want to bully me out of the race." He had drawn little active support from key political figures in New York or in the Obama administration, which had said it still backed Gillibrand.
White House officials joined Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a powerful figure in the party, in telling Ford that he should not run. Party leaders had also discouraged several Democratic House members in New York from challenging Gillibrand, eager to avoid a messy primary.