Continuing the conversation on the race for 2010, here is a surprising development that wouldn’t change the Senate math for Democrats, but could start quite a fight:
Encouraged by a group of influential New York Democrats, Harold Ford Jr., the former congressman from Tennessee, is weighing a bid to unseat Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand in this fall’s Democratic primary, according to three people who have spoken with him.
Mr. Ford, 39, who moved to New York three years ago, has told friends that he will decide whether to run in the next 45 days. The discussions between Mr. Ford and top Democratic donors reflect the dissatisfaction of some prominent party members with Ms. Gillibrand, who has yet to win over key constituencies, especially in New York City.
About a dozen high-profile Democrats have expressed interest in backing a candidacy by Mr. Ford, including the financier Steven Rattner, who, along with his wife, Maureen White, has been among the country’s most prolific Democratic fund-raisers.
While she has done little of note in her first year in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s former seat, Gillibrand is by all accounts a capable lawmaker, winning the respect of her colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations, Judiciary and Environment and Public Works Committees. She makes a credible pairing with influential senator (and potential future majority leader) Chuck Schumer, also of New York. But she took office under less-than-ideal circumstances—after once-favored Caroline Kennedy’s flameout, and amid uncharitable comparisons with her similarly blonde but far more qualified predecessor.
If elected, Ford, himself the son of a longtime congressman from Tennessee, would replace retiring senator Roland Burris as the only black member of the upper chamber of Congress. Ford, however, has been out of the political game for a few years now—recall that the last election he won was for a seat in the House of Representatives in 2004. Though he was the victim of some unseemly race-baiting in his bid for a Tennessee Senate seat in 2006, he has since been a bit of a dilettante—alternately, a Fox News commentator, the head of the hyper-centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and a vice president at Merrill Lynch. These are hardly the most populist of credentials. Nevertheless, a group of powerful Manhattanites—and a few in Albany—appear to be casting their lot with Ford.
Ford will certainly benefit from name recognition—and the special reverence bestowed upon upstanding black men running for elected office. But will New Yorkers tolerate the obvious carpet-bagging? Ironically, Gillibrand’s predecessor proved that it's possible, winning millions of New York voters with a “listening tour” over the course of 2000. And Bill Clinton counts Rattner as a friend, and himself rode to power with the backing of the DLC. Maybe, with their powers combined, Ford can pull off the same trick.
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.