The news that Harold Ford Jr., a conservative Democrat from Tennessee, is considering a primary challenge to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is as laughable as ludicrous. I’m still having trouble taking Ford’s bid seriously, but judging from a front page story in today’s New York Times, Gillibrand’s camp is preparing for war.
Ford, a son of a powerful political machine in Memphis who inherited his father’s seat in Congress in 1997 at the ripe old age of 26, moved to New York only three years ago after losing a Senate bid back home in ‘06. Afterward he secured a plum job at Merrill Lynch, became chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and cozied up to the city’s prominent moneymen, including gazillionaire Mayor Bloomberg, who are now promoting his Senate bid. Just what we need–another senator in Washington representing Wall Street and corporate America!
Ford’s backers point out that he’s only following in the footsteps of another high-profile carpetbagger, Hillary Clinton. But Clinton hadn’t lived in Illinois for decades, never considered Arkansas home and couldn’t run for Senate in DC. So why not New York? Moreover, though no great progressive, her center-left views on most issues adequately represented her constituency in a heavily Democratic state.
Ford’s own website, as of three days ago, said he "lives in Memphis and Nashville." Throughout his career he’s opportunistically tailored his views to match Tennessee’s conservative electorate (if not the overwhelmingly liberal district he represented in Congress for ten years). Blogger Daniel Nichanian rounded up some of his most egregious votes. Take a look:
In 2006, he was one of 34 Democrats to vote for the Federal Marriage Amendment, the constitutional ban on same-sex unions; at least 2 of the 27 Republicans who voted "no" were from New York. (He also trumpeted his support for a Tennessee ban.) But there’s more:
* 2000: Ford votes to normalize trade relations with China. Democrats oppose bill 138-73.
* 2001: Ford votes for the Patriot Act. Democrats support bill 129-75.
* 2002: Ford votes to authorize Iraq War. Democrats oppose bill 126-81.
* 2003: Ford is one of 63 Democrats to vote for the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.
* 2005: Ford votes for House Republicans’ tough anti-immigration bill, the Real ID ACT. Only 42 Democrats did so.
* 2005: Ford was one of 43 Democrats to back legislation intervening in the Terri Schiavo case.
* 2005: Ford votes for bankruptcy reform, along with 72 other Democrats.
* 2006: Ford votes to permanently repeal the estate tax, along with only 42 other Democrats.
* He repeatedly voted in favor of a constitutional amendment banning flag-burning (2005, 2003, 2001, 1999).
I might add, he once filmed a campaign ad in a church, touting his support for the Patriot Act and opposition to "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.
I have a very hard time believing those views will fly in much of New York. Of course, once upon a time Gillibrand espoused conservative stands on issues like guns and immigrant rights, only changing her mind once she became a senator and no longer represented a rural district upstate. Her seeming lack of conviction certainly deserves broader scrutiny. But in a state like New York, in a Democratic primary, she should be challenged from the left, not the right! If anything, Gillibrand is too conservative for New York, not insufficiently so. (Labor activist Jonathan Tasini is challenging Gillibrand, as he did Clinton in 2006, but he doesn’t have a realistic shot at winning the primary.)
Ford is already doing his fair share of flip-flopping, suddenly coming out for gay marriage and abortion rights. He says he won’t be "bullied or intimidated" by "party bosses." Right. It’s tough to run against the machine when you are it.