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 LeaderBill Frist in traditionally conservative Tennessee. In August, he ran virtually unopposed for the Democratic nomination. And now, a recent poll has Ford just one pointbehind his Republican rival, former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker.

If he wins in November, the 36-year-old Ford would become the firstAfrican-American senator from the South since reconstruction. Ever sincehis keynote speech at the 2000 Democratic convention, Ford has been seenas a rising star in the party, yet his very conservative views on avariety of issues make him seem more like the next Joe Lieberman than abeacon 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. Hewas an outspoken opponent of a filibuster attempt to prevent SamuelAlito’s appointment to the Supreme Court. He has supported theplacement of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, prayer in schools andan end to handgun bans.

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

Ford is certainly a charismatic congressman. Tennessee AFL-CIO LaborCouncil president Jerry Lee has called him, “the most exciting candidateI’ve seen since John F. Kennedy” and he’s even appeared in Peoplemagazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” issue . Yet for some time now, the American public, and progressivesespecially, have been crying out for more than a pretty face. They wanta real change in leadership, but in a Senate where Rep. Ford couldostensibly be the deciding vote on a host of issues, change might comemuch slower than they’d hoped.