CBC Set to Boost Ford’s Senate Bid

Posted June 20, 2005 at 6:40pm

Viewing him as their next best hope for the Senate, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are already putting together plans to devote time and resources to help elect Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) in 2006.

The CBC has yet to take a formal position on Ford’s candidacy, but its members are universally backing their colleague as he wages an uphill climb to succeed retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R). Caucus members say they will help Ford raise money, campaign for him in Washington, D.C., and Tennessee, and serve as his surrogate whenever asked.

“I think he makes an excellent candidate,” said the CBC chairman, Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), who has already pledged his commitment to Ford. “He has the political pedigree, the educational background and the stamina — he is young. All of those things are important, all the way down the list. And he is light years better than the current Senator.”

While the CBC will play an active political role this cycle for several black candidates, Ford will get members’ special attention since he is their Congressional colleague and friend. The black caucus pulled out all the stops in 2004 to elect then-Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama (D) — now the only black U.S. Senator — through multiple fundraisers and other campaign events.

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said Ford is “the new face of the Democratic Party” with the charisma, intelligence and vision to match. He said he has asked Ford to “dispatch me” to help him campaign in the eastern half of Tennessee, where “he probably needs the most help” and where Clay can tap into some of his longtime political contacts and allies.

“I will do whatever he needs,” Clay said. “This is a historic election since he could be the first African-American elected from the South since Reconstruction. I want to be a part of that historic event and help my friend move to the U.S. Senate.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the immediate past chairman of the CBC, said, “Harold is one of the brightest stars in our party” and will get the help of his Congressional colleagues.

Cummings noted that if former Vice President Al Gore couldn’t carry his home state of Tennessee in his 2000 Democratic presidential bid, Ford obviously has his political work cut out for him.

“He is going to be able to garner support from every segment of our party,” Cummings said. “He is able to appeal to a wide cross section. Sometimes he is right of center, sometimes he is liberal, but he’s always a man of conviction.”

Ford already is facing his share of difficult political hurdles, beyond the conservative voting trends of Tennessee and the obstacles faced by any black candidate running statewide in the South. Earlier this month, his uncle, state Sen. John Ford, was arrested on corruption charges (John Ford has since resigned). He also got some political ribbing for running one of the first political ads of the cycle — although it didn’t mention his campaign — urging a quick return of U.S. troops from Iraq.

The Tennessee Member also enters the race with a ready-made primary against Democratic state Sen. Rosalind Kurita, who is arguing that she can run a stronger race in the general election than Ford.

Ford said in an interview that he has sought and will continue to solicit help from all of his Congressional colleagues, including but not limited to the 43-member CBC. He was quick to note, however, that the race must be run and won in Tennessee and that convincing home- state voters that he is the best candidate is his top priority.

“I’ve asked each and every one of my colleagues to come on board,” he said. “When your colleagues support you, it shows that you enjoy respect [in the chamber]. It is a testament to the value and experience you add to the institution.”

Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.), chairman of the CBC political action committee, said while the board has yet to discuss Ford’s bid, he “anticipates that as an African-American with a viable candidacy running for the Senate, we’d be very, very supportive.”

Wynn said the PAC is “going to have a busy year” assisting candidates for national office, noting that beyond Ford, other top black candidates for 2006 include former Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D), who is running for the Senate in Maryland, and state Sen. Les Miller (D) of Florida, who is running for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Jim Davis (D).

Wynn said the CBC will do whatever is necessary to “encourage contributions from individuals who support the goal of electing more African-Americans.”

As for Ford, Wynn said: “He’s got a very good shot in the Democratic primary. It’s tough to get elected given the voting trends in the state, but he is an appealing candidate and a great competitor.”