Harold Ford Jr., the 36-year-old Democratic congressman and Senate
candidate from Tennessee, is part of a veritable political dynasty
in the Volunteer State.
Fords have served at almost every level of government, from the
city level to U.S. Congress. Ford himself was elected to the House
of Representatives, fresh out of law school at age 26 in 1996.
however, the Fords have spent about as much time in courthouses
as in legislatures.
Ford's father, former Rep. Harold Ford Sr., fought federal charges
of fraud and conspiracy until he was acquitted in 1993 at the
end of a racially charged trial that many feared might have incited
riots had the verdict been different.
Just a day after Harold Ford Jr. officially began his Senate
campaign, his uncle, former Tennessee state Sen. John N. Ford,
was indicted on charges that he extorted a dummy company set up
by the FBI and then threatened to "shoot or kill anyone he
suspected ... was trying to set him up," according to The
New York Times. His trial on these charges, which was supposed
to begin a few weeks before the November elections, has been pushed
to next year.
In addition, Ford's uncle Emmett was convicted of insurance fraud
and his aunt Ophelia was removed from the state Senate due to
her connections to a voting fraud scandal for which she was not
All this legal activity has made Ford's run for the Senate seat
vacated by retiring Republican Bill Frist a little more complicated.
His family is revered in some parts, reviled in others, but well-known
"I love my family and there's nothing anybody can say to
bring any distance between me or any member of my family,"
Ford told NPR's Debbie Elliott. However, in the same interview,
he also said, "If you have the recipe for picking family,
send it to me."
Ford hopes that his campaign for Senate will be focused on the
major issues of the day rather than his "big crazy family,"
as he has referred to them. But his stances on major issues are
not without controversy either.
As a member of Congress, Ford voted to authorize the Iraq war
and supported repealing the estate tax. He has opposed gay marriage
and believes the Ten Commandments should be displayed in Tennessee
He is a strong backer of campaign finance reform and corporate
corruption legislation. And one of the issues on which he is most
vocal is U.S. dependence on foreign oil. One of his campaign ads
asks, "Fed Up When You Fill Up?"
Since first being elected in 1996, Ford has cruised to re-election
in his heavily Democratic district, easily dispatching Republican
Ruben Fort in 2004 by capturing some 82 percent of the vote.
Still, some within the Democratic Party, and especially within
the Congressional Black Caucus, feel that Ford is too conservative
to be in the same party as Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Democratic
National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Ford says his views show
he is an independent thinker beholden to no one. His right-of-center
views might even be a political asset in a state that hasn't sent
a Democrat to the Senate in 16 years and voted against native
son former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential race.
At this point, it appears the Democratic Party is willing to
accept Harold Ford Jr.'s conservative tendencies as they see his
race as one of their best chances to pick up enough seats to take
control of the Senate in November.
Ford, who ran with nominal opposition for the Democratic nomination,
faces a tough Senate race against the wealthy former mayor of
Chattanooga, Bob Corker. Corker won a brutal three-way Republican
primary in August that became the most expensive in Tennessee