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Tenn.: Harold Ford Jr. Changes Horses

Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who is running for Tennessee's open Senate seat, has jettisoned his original consultants and brought in a new team of political pros as the campaign heads into the election year.

Ford parted way with pollster Harrison Hickman of the Global Strategy Group and media consultant Marius Penczner of Penn Schoen Berland and Associates.  Hickman did a poll for Ford as recently mid-October showing the five-term congressman with a huge primary lead over state Sen. Rosalind Kurita, and narrower edges over his three potential Republican rivals -- former Reps. Van Hilleary and Ed Bryant as well as former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker.

To replace Hickman and Penczner, Ford has brought on Pete Brodnitz of the Benenson Strategy Group to handle the campaign's survey research and Jim Margolis of GMMB as his lead media consultant.

Brodnitz is one of the hottest pollsters on the Democratic side, having guided Virginia Gov.-elect Tim Kaine to victory last month. As (further) evidence of the incredibly incestuous nature of the consulting world, Brodnitz used to work for Penn Schoen.

Margolis, too, is a rising star. He was a key adviser (for a time) to the presidential bid of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and has been in on recent strategy sessions with Senate Democrats as well as 2008 aspirant Mark Warner -- the outgoing governor of Virginia.

A consultant shake-up is rarely a good thing in the short-term for a campaign as it presents an image of chaos to the D.C political/campaign donor community. But Ford insiders insist that having made the change now ensures he will have a unified team heading into 2006 and that the personnel changes have had little effect on his fundraising.

As first reported today at my alma mater -- Roll Call, Ford held a fundraising event with former President Bill Clinton on Monday night in New York City that netted $300,000 for his Senate campaign. Ford had $1.75 million in the bank at the end of September, and his allies insist the past three months have been extremely positive on the fundraising front.

Given the statewide political dynamics of Tennessee, Ford faces an uphill fight regardless of whom Republicans eventually nominate. President Bush won the state in 2004 by 14 points, and the Volunteer State hasn't been represented by a Democrat in the Senate since 1994 when Sens. Harlan Matthews (D) and Jim Sasser (D) held the two seats.

Ford's campaign did not return several requests for comment.

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 15, 2005; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Ford is not will out side memphis. When he was drive to Nashdille he had carry a sawed off shotgun in the car.To keep the truck drivers from killing him. And what happen to all those women that were found on highway dead and know one invespigated them.

Posted by: | January 6, 2006 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Al Gore ran a terrible campaign, and didn't seriously contest TN. I wouldn't extrapolate his 2000 loss there to mean much.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | December 15, 2005 11:36 PM | Report abuse

I suspect the polls will swing widely once a republican front runner steps forward or after the primary. What is obvious is the GOP does not have strong front runner. Barring a complete collapse by the GOP, I cant see Ford winning. Al Gore could not carry his home state in 2000.

Posted by: db | December 15, 2005 11:25 PM | Report abuse

Ford could win in Tennesse. He is a African American, but he is a conservative blue dog Democrat. He would sit well in Tennesse. Tenn. is not Alabama, or anything. Ford would not blow candidates out of the water, but he could win by 2-4% of the vote. It would be nice if Al Gore came out of retirement and try to get his seat back in the Senate. That would be amazing.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 15, 2005 11:22 PM | Report abuse

Wouldn't Ford, even if he ran as a relatively conservative Democrat, face the same type of electorate and situation that Kirk(TX), Carson (OK), Sanders (SC) and Bowles (NC) faced?? I mean seriously, unless the Dems have a relatively popular Dem President sitting in the Oval office today, I can't see how they can break through the generic GOP wall in the South. Unless of course his GOP opponent is a weak candidate running an even weaker campaign? That generic party ID is very hard to overcome in today's South for any Democrat, especially one running for national office. I wish Ford the best but I'd still hedge it a GOP retention!

Posted by: Kim | December 15, 2005 6:49 PM | Report abuse

According a recently released analysis from the Cook Political Report, Tennessee's Senate race ranks as only 1 of 4 toss-ups in the entire country. Cook is not alone in his analysis either. Other well respected experts and pundits also believe Ford can win.

They are all backed up by several key facts.

First, the latest Zogby poll showed Congressman surging in support. According to the polling, back in August, Ford trailed by 17 points. In September, he was behind 11 points. And according to the latest polling, he has cut the lead to within the margin of error to 6 points.

Second, a recent Global Strategy Group poll showed Congressman Ford leading all of his opponents in U.S. Senate campaign.

Finally, Congressman Ford led all his candidates in fundraising for the third quarter and has raised more than any other candidate this year.

Other indicators also support the assertion that Congressman Ford is on his way to a 2006 victory.

According to a November article in the Tennessean a MTSU poll showed that, "Bush's approval rating had plunged from 55% last February to 40% this fall. Support for the war in Iraq also dropped, as did Tennesseans' belief that Bush could achieve political goals such as keeping America prosperous and ensuring Social Security's long-term stability."

"The poll also found that 64% of Tennesseans are unhappy with the nation's direction."

Those numbers coincide with the findings from the latest Quinnipiac University poll.

When asked, "What is your preference for the outcome of the November 2006 congressional elections: a Congress controlled by Republicans or a Congress controlled by Democrats?," 36% of respondents said they would prefer a Republican Congress, while 47% said they would like to see a Democratically controlled Congress.

It is clear: people want change.

Harold Ford represents change, and that is why he will be Tennessee's next U.S. Senator.

Posted by: Chris D. Jackson | December 15, 2005 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Correction: Howard Baker. How stupid of me.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | December 15, 2005 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Tennessee is certainly one of the lighter red of the red states (being border rather than deep south). Before 1994 I don't know when it had a Republican senator. Al Gore Sr. and Jr. were from TN, and Clinton won the state in both 1992 and 96. The state elected a Democratic governor in 2002, who will be on the ballot for reelection in 06. I know very little about TN, but I'd guess that the right Democrat running a good campaign could win there. I wouldn't write Ford off or consider him a shoe-in, but he looks competitive to me. If Democratic tides keep rising next year, I could see the DNC or DSCC putting increasing resources into more marginal races like this one, when ones like PA are in the bag.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | December 15, 2005 3:59 PM | Report abuse

As a conservative of color who lives in Memphis and knows what is going politically, I contend that Jr. will win the primary and lose in the general election. Although he tries to sell himself as a conservative, he seems to be leaning to the left to mend fences with those in his party who do not like his votes on Iraq, gay marriage, and other conservative issues. While he is definately a national figure with a substantial capaign war chest, he will not fool true conservatives in Middle and East Tennessee and he will not win the Senate seat!

Posted by: Harold M. Baker | December 15, 2005 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, Roger, as a Tennessean, I disagree with you. Kurita is fighting a losing battle, she just doesn't have the charisma, let alone the war chest to carry out a winning campaign. And the Republicans here in TN are running scared that Ford will win the Primary. He really has risen above the family troubles in many people's minds. Even (gasp) Republicans like him here!

Posted by: ken | December 15, 2005 2:38 PM | Report abuse

If Ford wins the primary the republican wins the seat. He's black in a southern conservative, probably republican state. Say anything you want, but there is a reason there have been less than 5 black members of the US Senate. The repubs don't have a strong candidate with statewide name recognition. The only two things Ford has is a bad family name (his uncle state "Senator Ford" under inditement for bribery) and being black. Kurita, the other dem is a nurse against Frist's reputation as a tarnished doctor.

Posted by: Roger | December 15, 2005 2:01 PM | Report abuse

How are the Republicans planning on getting past the huge liability of their extended party?

Ford has high name recognition and is very much a known quantity. If anything having to do with his extended family was going to hurt him it would have done so already. He polls even or ahead of all his potential opponents. I'd put my money on Harold Ford winning, though I still wouldn't wager a great deal of money on it.

Posted by: Jackson Landers | December 15, 2005 1:49 PM | Report abuse

How is Ford planning to get past the huge liability of his extended family

Posted by: Memphis | December 15, 2005 1:10 PM | Report abuse

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