N.Y. members not flocking to Ford
By Ben Pershing
Harold Ford Jr.'s nascent candidacy for Senate in New York isn't stirring much enthusiasm so far among the state's Democratic House members, many of whom aren't sure why the former Tennessee lawmaker is considering making the race.
The Empire State political world has been buzzing about Ford in recent weeks after he has put out word that he may mount a Democratic primary challenge this year to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to the seat after Hillary Rodham Clinton became secretary of state. Ford gave his most extensive comments to date on the subject in an interview this week with the New York Times, saying he would be an independent voice for the state and criticizing Gillibrand for being insufficiently aggressive in the Senate.
Gillibrand, a relative moderate by New York standards who previously represented an Albany-area House seat, has had some stumbles since her elevation to the Senate. But the White House and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have rallied to her side. And while Ford has yet to formally enter the race and the primary is still eight months away, multiple House Democrats from New York said Wednesday they would stick by Gillibrand regardless of whether Ford gets into the contest.
"I haven't heard anyone in the delegation express enthusiasm for his candidacy," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, adding that he had always had a good relationship with Ford but was puzzled by his interest in this race: "So far it's been a candidacy devoid of a rationale."
Weiner also mocked Ford's vow in the Times interview that he would not take orders from Democratic leaders. "I don't think there's much of an appetite for a candidacy premised on being a problem for Harry Reid or standing up to Chuck Schumer, whatever that means," Weiner said.
Similarly, Rep. Elliot Engel said Ford was "a friend of mine" but stressed that "Kirsten Gillibrand is our senator and she's done a good job." Engel also noted that Ford had not called him or many other members of the delegation to discuss the race.
"I'd have to think if he were serious he'd be calling people," Engel said.
Though Ford has only lived in New York for a few years -- he represented Tennessee in the House for 10 years before a failed Senate bid in that state -- some analysts have suggested that he could have a shot in the primary against Gillibrand if he can attract support from the Empire State's sizable African-American community. So far, however, he hasn't gotten the backing of any of New York's black House members, and his moderate record -- Ford formerly ran the centrist Democratic Leadership Council -- might make that task more difficult.
Rep. Yvette Clarke said she had already endorsed Gillibrand and wouldn't change that decision. And she predicted that African-American voters wouldn't back Ford simply because of his race.
"I think they're going to look at the issues he supports ... and make their determinations based on the issues," Clarke said. "It's not a simple equation. Put it that way."
January 13, 2010; 5:12 PM ET
Categories: Capitol Briefing
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