frank_talk (2006-07)

Can Jr. Get ‘er Done?

State Democrats have to get used to voting for ‘conservatives’

by Frank Cagle

Republicans are frustrated with a free-spending Republican Congress and a President trying to emulate LBJ, but they can’t be as frustrated as a Democratic voter in Tennessee.

The Democrats have a governor who is more popular with the Republican business establishment than with labor unions or trial lawyers. Congressman John Tanner was a founding member of the Blue Dogs (conservative congressional Democrats). Congressman Lincoln Davis is so conservative the only thing conservatives can criticize him for is that, organizationally, he is a vote for Minority Leader Barbara Pelosi.

Comes now Congressman Harold Ford Jr., a Democrat from Memphis, no less, who is running hard to the right in an effort to win a U.S. Senate seat. Ford has named Davis his state chairman. He is one of Tanner’s Blue Dogs, and was campaigning with him in rural West Tennessee on Monday.

Ford was interviewed this week on AM1180 by hosts Lloyd Daugherty and Kelvin Moxley, of the Tennessee Conservative Union, Leslie Snow,

Ford said he supports the Second Amendment right to bear arms, he is against partial birth abortion, he argues we have to stay in Iraq until we get the job done and he says he was encouraged on his most recent of four visits to the war zone. He wants to end pork barrel spending and balance the budget by making every department cut spending, and he wants to reform the tax code.

It was in the area of entitlements that Ford made his boldest statements. He says we need to notify people 40 and under right now that they won’t be getting Social Security until they are 70. Increased life expectancy is threatening the solvency of the program. He also favors means testing so that those making over $300,000 a year would not receive a Social Security check. He is opposed to private accounts.

Ford was being interviewed on a conservative talk show for a conservative audience, and in any good politician’s portfolio there are issues he can highlight for what might be a hostile audience. And I’m sure he has gradations on some of the issues that he might stress before another audience. Perhaps Democrats have become inured to the idea that their candidates have to talk conservative to get elected, and they just assume they don’t really mean it.

But issues aside, Ford is bright, capable and charismatic. If you went to the lab to create a candidate, Ford could be the prototype. He doesn’t get rattled. He does his homework. I’m sure he spent some time talking with TCU favorite Davis before calling Daugherty. When you talk to “Junior,” it is easy to see why he excites his supporters and why you see confident predictions in

But if you step back and analyze it here are his challenges:

He will do well in Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga and Knoxville, where there are a lot of African Americans, a lot of Democrats and a lot of liberals. How well does he do in the other 91 counties?

A Democrat has to run well in rural West Tennessee, a stronghold for Democrats since the War of Northern Aggression. If former Gov. Ned McWherter and Tanner go at it hard and the machine delivers, Ford may do well. But the Republicans have been spreading from Shelby County out into the rural counties like an oil spot. State Sen. Don McLeary, elected as a Democrat from Humboldt, switched to the Republican Party recently, after voting to oust Junior’s aunt, state Sen. Ophelia Ford. If you think you’ve heard a lot about the sins of some of the members of the Ford family, imagine how many stories the Memphis media have sent out into the conservative rural Democratic counties over the years.

We would like to believe we live in a state where a question would not arise about whether Tennessee is ready for an African American senator. Let’s remember that America elected only two African Americans to the Senate during the 20thCentury, one from Massachusetts and one from Illinois.

It is instructive to note that most of Ford’s bumper stickers don’t say Ford. They say “Jr.” I doubt anyone will go around saying they won’t vote for Jr. because he is African American. They will just say they won’t vote for him because of his uncle, former state Sen. John Ford, who will be on trial the month before the election. It’s like the conservatives who argue that they aren’t prejudiced because their favorite political columnist is Thomas Sowell. It’s never about race, even when it is.

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, has become a national figure as the first African American senator elected this century. If Junior wins this senate race in a Southern state with a decidedly minority minority population, then he will be a superstar. m

Frank Cagle is a political analyst and the editor of Knoxville Magazine . You can reach him at .