When it comes to winning back the Senate, Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee is beginning to look like the Democrats’ make-or-break candidate–and that might not be such a good thing.

Ford is running surprisingly well in his race to replace retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in traditionally conservative Tennessee. In August, he ran virtually unopposed for the Democratic nomination. And now, a recent poll has Ford just one point behind his Republican rival, former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker.

If he wins in November, the 36-year-old Ford would become the first African-American senator from the South since reconstruction. Ever since his keynote speech at the 2000 Democratic convention, Ford has been seen as a rising star in the party, yet his very conservative views on a variety of issues make him seem more like the next Joe Lieberman than a beacon of light in future of the party.

During his nearly decade-long career in Congress, Ford has supported constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and flag-burning. He was an outspoken opponent of a filibuster attempt to prevent Samuel Alito’s appointment to the Supreme Court. He has supported the placement of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, prayer in schools and an end to handgun bans.

Most disappointing was his vote in favor for the war in Iraq, when so many of his colleagues in the House had the wisdom not to.

Ford is certainly a charismatic congressman. Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council president Jerry Lee has called him, "the most exciting candidate I’ve seen since John F. Kennedy" and he’s even appeared in People magazine’s "50 Most Beautiful People" issue . Yet for some time now, the American public, and progressives especially, have been crying out for more than a pretty face. They want a real change in leadership, but in a Senate where Rep. Ford could ostensibly be the deciding vote on a host of issues, change might come much slower than they’d hoped.