Like first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., a Democrat from Memphis, is in the midst of his own "listening tour" that is taking him to every corner of Tennessee. Ford, the youngest member of the House, has made little secret of his desire to take on first-term Sen. Bill Frist (R) next year. Aides last week said the response has been so positive, Ford is closer than ever to jumping into the race.
"I think he's leaning in that direction," said spokesman Mark Schuermann, noting that Ford won't make a decision until after Labor Day. "He's generating a lot of buzz. . . . He's charming everyone."
Ford's higher political aspirations might seem a bit far-fetched. He's 29. He's only in his second term. He's black and represents a majority black district in a state and region--the South--that hasn't exactly been prone to electing African Americans to statewide office.
Ford is from a politically prominent family. His father, Harold E. Ford Sr., represented the district for 22 years. But young Ford, unlike his father, has gone to great lengths to portray himself as a moderate eager to reach out and work with whites. And he has the support of national and state Democrats, not to mention his friend Vice President Gore.
Those things work to his advantage. Ford's district is about 59 percent black in a state that is about 16 percent black. Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst for the Cook Political Report, says Ford would need to win almost all of the black vote and one-third of the white vote--a difficult task in Tennessee--to have any chance of winning.
Ford has accused Frist, an independently wealthy doctor who owns stock in a major health insurance corporation, of being out of touch with the state. And he has scored some points knocking Frist's opposition to major HMO reform.
But will he be able to get his message out? As of June 30, Ford had less than $31,000 on hand, compared with Frist's $3.1 million.
"I would say that Harold Ford Jr. is seeking attention because he's not very well-known," said Frist spokesman Margaret Camp. "He hasn't raised much money and he doesn't have much of a record."
IN NEW YORK, STOP THAT CANDIDATE
Now, back to the first lady . . .
The New York GOP has taken its fund-raising battle against the likely Senate candidate to cyberspace, launching a new "Stop Hillary" campaign on the Internet.
State Republicans are concerned that Hillary Clinton will be able to draw from a national database of voters to raise big money and overwhelm New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, or whoever decides to get into the race.
Designed as a mock newspaper, the New York Herald, on the state GOP's Web site, www.nygop.org, offers the lead headline: "Hillary Kicks Off Blind Ambition Tour." On the site's fund-raising page, state GOP Chairman William Powers declares the party ready for the challenge and urges supporters to donate to the party via the Internet.
"But, we all know this won't be easy because we've seen the depths to which the Clintons will sink during a campaign," Powers wrote. "Their arrogance and contempt for the voters knows no bounds. In fact, Hillary hasn't even bought a house here yet, but she's already said she plans on spending $25 million to buy New York's U.S. Senate seat."
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson saw the Web site and branded it "standard operating procedure," noting that Republicans across the country are using the prospect of Clinton's candidacy to raise money. "They don't want to see her in the Senate," he said. "But thankfully the decision is not up to them but the people of New York."
"I don't know him. I've never met him. He seems genial. He's governor of a big state. He was reelected. But with all of those attributes, if he didn't have $50 million, who knows? I think this is a time when it's possible to raise too much money."
-- Bill Bradley, campaigning yesterday in New Hampshire for the Democratic presidential nomination, on GOP front-runner George W. Bush, governor of Texas.