Commentary Magazine


Topic: Harold Ford Jr.

The Civil War

The media and liberal punditocracy has been searching for a civil war on the Right. Tea Party protestors vs. the GOP! Marco Rubio vs. Charlie Crist! But the divide isn’t really as significant as the Left would hope, and the primary fights on the GOP side, far from being a bloodbath, look rather tame (and in Florida, one-sided). There really is a fight breaking out — but it’s in the Democratic Party. Politico reports:

With Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s announcement Monday that he will run against Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Senate Democrats now have three colleagues facing serious primary challenges from candidates embracing distinctly anti-Washington platforms at a time when Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress…. In Pennsylvania, where Rep. Joe Sestak is battling White House-backed Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, Sestak has criticized the party establishment for supporting a party-switcher and for focusing too much on the political calculus of adding another Democratic Senate vote.

“The Real Arlen Specter has been a longtime Republican for 45 years and has spent the past 29 years in Washington, D.C.,” reads a website Sestak’s campaign launched, titled “The Real Arlen Specter.”

In Colorado, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is challenging appointed Sen. Michael Bennet, has gone so far as to denounce his own party for failing to denounce backroom deal making in health care reform negotiations. In New York, former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. branded Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a “parakeet” for party higher-ups before announcing Monday he wasn’t running.

Rather civil war-like, I would say. And then there is the fight over reconciliation, if we ever get that far. Roll Call reports: “Knowledgeable Senate Democratic aides have warned for weeks of the difficulty of drafting a complex health care reform bill under reconciliation rules. The challenge is to construct legislation that can satisfy Democrats, withstand Republican resistance and pass muster with the Senate Parliamentarian.” But the leadership is pressing on, despite the objections of prominent Democrats like Sen. Kent Conrad.

In the short term, the primary challengers on the Left will likely jerk the besieged Democrats even further Leftward in an effort to survive their primaries. But that then leaves the playing field wide open for Republican contenders to appeal to the Center-Right majority, the very voters inflamed by the Obami’s extremist agenda.

It is the very tale the Left was pushing, but in reverse. Now it is the Democrats, beset by internal divides and ideological extremism, who are heading for a smash-up.  It is what Obama has wrought, not so long after he promised to bring us into a great post-partisan era. It seems he has instead stirred up quite a fight, in his own party no less.

The media and liberal punditocracy has been searching for a civil war on the Right. Tea Party protestors vs. the GOP! Marco Rubio vs. Charlie Crist! But the divide isn’t really as significant as the Left would hope, and the primary fights on the GOP side, far from being a bloodbath, look rather tame (and in Florida, one-sided). There really is a fight breaking out — but it’s in the Democratic Party. Politico reports:

With Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s announcement Monday that he will run against Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Senate Democrats now have three colleagues facing serious primary challenges from candidates embracing distinctly anti-Washington platforms at a time when Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress…. In Pennsylvania, where Rep. Joe Sestak is battling White House-backed Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter, Sestak has criticized the party establishment for supporting a party-switcher and for focusing too much on the political calculus of adding another Democratic Senate vote.

“The Real Arlen Specter has been a longtime Republican for 45 years and has spent the past 29 years in Washington, D.C.,” reads a website Sestak’s campaign launched, titled “The Real Arlen Specter.”

In Colorado, former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is challenging appointed Sen. Michael Bennet, has gone so far as to denounce his own party for failing to denounce backroom deal making in health care reform negotiations. In New York, former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. branded Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a “parakeet” for party higher-ups before announcing Monday he wasn’t running.

Rather civil war-like, I would say. And then there is the fight over reconciliation, if we ever get that far. Roll Call reports: “Knowledgeable Senate Democratic aides have warned for weeks of the difficulty of drafting a complex health care reform bill under reconciliation rules. The challenge is to construct legislation that can satisfy Democrats, withstand Republican resistance and pass muster with the Senate Parliamentarian.” But the leadership is pressing on, despite the objections of prominent Democrats like Sen. Kent Conrad.

In the short term, the primary challengers on the Left will likely jerk the besieged Democrats even further Leftward in an effort to survive their primaries. But that then leaves the playing field wide open for Republican contenders to appeal to the Center-Right majority, the very voters inflamed by the Obami’s extremist agenda.

It is the very tale the Left was pushing, but in reverse. Now it is the Democrats, beset by internal divides and ideological extremism, who are heading for a smash-up.  It is what Obama has wrought, not so long after he promised to bring us into a great post-partisan era. It seems he has instead stirred up quite a fight, in his own party no less.

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Ford Runs Over Democrats

Harold Ford Jr. has decided not to run for the Senate. But — in an Evan Bayh–like  move — he’s going out with guns blazing. He aims for the liberal Democratic leadership:

Voting for health care legislation that imposes billions in new taxes on New Yorkers and restricts federal financing for abortions is not good for the people of this state. Voting against critical funds necessary to ensure the survival of the financial services industry — the economic backbone of this state — is not good for the people of New York.

I was considered out of touch with mainstream Democrats when I argued against spending more than $200 million a year to hold the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York. I was also labeled out of touch for advocating a payroll tax cut for small businesses and for putting a jobs bill before a scaled-down health reform bill. Though much more needs to be done to create jobs, I am pleased that these ideas have now become part of the Democratic mainstream.

And then he unleashes this:

Yet the party has been too slow to change. The effects of its lack of flexibility have been clear in a series of worrisome political events: Ted Kennedy’s “safe” Senate seat was lost to a Republican; Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced they weren’t running for re-election; Senate seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin and Delaware now seem to be in jeopardy; New York’s state government faces even more controversy and challenge. …

Our elected officials have spent too much time this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda — and not enough time looking out for their own constituents.

New Yorkers aren’t asking for much. A jobs bill that cuts taxes for the middle class and invests in the future; a health care system that doesn’t bankrupt people when they get sick; and public schools that lay the groundwork for children to take advantage of all the future holds.

Once again we can expect the liberal punditocracy, which has rooted for the very items Ford deplores, to either ignore or attack Ford. Carpetbagger! Spoilsport! Perhaps. But his views are more in line with public sentiment than with the rest of his party and, at this point, with the White House’s agenda. If Ford is an outcast in the Democratic party and Bayh can’t take it either, that should tell the Obami that something is amiss. But I doubt that lesson will be learned. They’ve invested too much in their ultra-liberal extremism. Only defeat of their cherished signature item, and then of many of their fellow Democrats in November, I think, will register. But as Obama told us, perhaps a one-term president is all he wants to be. Ignoring Ford and Bayh, not to mention the voters, is a recipe for just that.

Harold Ford Jr. has decided not to run for the Senate. But — in an Evan Bayh–like  move — he’s going out with guns blazing. He aims for the liberal Democratic leadership:

Voting for health care legislation that imposes billions in new taxes on New Yorkers and restricts federal financing for abortions is not good for the people of this state. Voting against critical funds necessary to ensure the survival of the financial services industry — the economic backbone of this state — is not good for the people of New York.

I was considered out of touch with mainstream Democrats when I argued against spending more than $200 million a year to hold the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York. I was also labeled out of touch for advocating a payroll tax cut for small businesses and for putting a jobs bill before a scaled-down health reform bill. Though much more needs to be done to create jobs, I am pleased that these ideas have now become part of the Democratic mainstream.

And then he unleashes this:

Yet the party has been too slow to change. The effects of its lack of flexibility have been clear in a series of worrisome political events: Ted Kennedy’s “safe” Senate seat was lost to a Republican; Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced they weren’t running for re-election; Senate seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin and Delaware now seem to be in jeopardy; New York’s state government faces even more controversy and challenge. …

Our elected officials have spent too much time this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda — and not enough time looking out for their own constituents.

New Yorkers aren’t asking for much. A jobs bill that cuts taxes for the middle class and invests in the future; a health care system that doesn’t bankrupt people when they get sick; and public schools that lay the groundwork for children to take advantage of all the future holds.

Once again we can expect the liberal punditocracy, which has rooted for the very items Ford deplores, to either ignore or attack Ford. Carpetbagger! Spoilsport! Perhaps. But his views are more in line with public sentiment than with the rest of his party and, at this point, with the White House’s agenda. If Ford is an outcast in the Democratic party and Bayh can’t take it either, that should tell the Obami that something is amiss. But I doubt that lesson will be learned. They’ve invested too much in their ultra-liberal extremism. Only defeat of their cherished signature item, and then of many of their fellow Democrats in November, I think, will register. But as Obama told us, perhaps a one-term president is all he wants to be. Ignoring Ford and Bayh, not to mention the voters, is a recipe for just that.

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Zuckerman Candidacy Would Change Everything in New York Senate Race

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

Well-heeled New York Democrats dismayed at the prospect of even another two years of Kirsten Gillibrand in the United States Senate have been floating the candidacy of former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. But the floundering candidacy of Ford may be bolstered by the appearance of a new Republican candidate for the seat: publisher and real-estate magnate Mortimer Zuckerman.

According to the New York Times, the 72-year-old Zuckerman is considering a run for the Senate this year. It is assumed that if he  throws his hat in the ring, the 72-year-old billionaire will have the GOP nomination for the asking. But if Zuckerman runs, it will also have an impact on the Democrats.

Until Ford’s boomlet appeared last month, Gillibrand appeared to be cruising to an easy primary victory simply because Chuck Schumer, New York’s senior senator, has very much enjoyed his last year in office. That’s because Gillibrand, unlike her predecessor Hillary Clinton, not only does whatever Schumer asks her to do, but is also content to let the legendary Brooklyn publicity hound hog have all the media attention. So Schumer has used his considerable fund-raising power to not only help build Gillibrand’s campaign account, but to also intimidate possible foes such as Manhattan Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from pursuing the race. But the problem with this scheme is that Gillibrand has made such a poor impression in the Senate that despite Schumer’s best efforts, some Democrats still think that not only can they do better but also that she is potentially vulnerable in November. Gillibrand’s weakness is accentuated by the possibility that the mid-term election this fall will feature a Republican tide sweeping the country.

So far, Ford’s tryout in the media hasn’t gone that well. His initial interview with the Times was almost as disastrous as a similar encounter with the press, in which Caroline Kennedy’s putative candidacy for the appointment that eventually went to Gillibrand went down in flames. Back in December 2008, Kennedy set new indoor records for a would-be politician saying “You know” and “um” when speaking to reporters. Last month Ford was more articulate but he probably would have done just as well saying “you know” and “um” rather than admitting that, as a vice president for Merrill Lynch, he rarely takes the subway, had only flown over the outer boroughs of New York, and likes pedicures and breakfast at swank hotels.

When the only Republicans considering a run for the Senate were unknowns with little chances of victory in November, Gillibrand’s cipher-like profile wasn’t an obstacle to a Democratic victory. But against a candidate like Zuckerman, whose vast fortune would make her considerable war chest look like a pittance, a safe Democratic seat might become a tossup. Indeed, given Zuckerman’s impeccable pro-Israel credentials (he’s a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and his command of both economic issues and foreign affairs has been demonstrated in the columns he has written and in appearances on talk shows); his candidacy has the potential to put a sizable percentage of the Jewish vote in question. It is true that Democrats will dismiss this possibility because the vast majority of Jews are liberals and loyal Democrats (see former COMMENTARY editor Norman Podhoretz’s insightful book Why Are Jews Liberal?). But in New York there is a larger percentage than in the rest of the country of Orthodox Jews and of those who care deeply about Israel. Though it should be conceded that even a weak Democrat could do well against a strong pro-Israel Jewish Republican in New York, there is little question that Zuckerman could cut into the expected huge Democratic majority in the Jewish vote. In a state where Jews still make up about 9 percent of the population (and a much larger percentage of those who actually vote) even a small shift in the Jewish vote could make the difference for a massively financed Zuckerman campaign.

It’s not clear yet that Ford could poll any better against Zuckerman than Gillibrand could, or that he can beat her in a primary even if he raises all the money he needs. Nor do we know yet whether Zuckerman is really interested in running. But with a billionaire GOP candidate looming in the wings, you’d have to expect that some Democrats who are reluctantly backing Gillibrand would re-examine their options.

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A New York Battle

This is going to be fun. The “this” is the New York Democratic Senate primary, which is going to make up for that Rudy Giuliani vs. Hillary Clinton matchup that political fans were deprived of when Giuliani decided not to make a Senate run in 2000. A sample:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is finally heeding New York Democrats’ advice that she get tough with Harold Ford Jr. — slamming the former Memphis congressman as an anti-gay-rights, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant tool of Wall Street money lords. The problem for Gillibrand: Ford is embracing New York’s slappy-face politics faster than she can generate the comebacks. On Monday, Ford dismissed Gillibrand as a party-controlled “parakeet.” For good measure, his spokesman told POLITICO that Gillibrand is a “desperate liar.”

Yowser. And it’s only January.

Now Gillibrand has some problems. She’s an incumbent when incumbents are out of favor. She hasn’t done anything memorable. And to a degree, Ford is right: she morphed from a moderate, somewhat independent-minded congresswoman into a loyal cog in the Reid-Pelosi-Obama machine, never raising a  fuss about the KSM trial or objecting to the ObamaCare deals that would have cost her state billions had we not been saved by the Massachusetts voters. (“The 39-year-old Ford, who relocated to New York after losing a 2006 Senate race in Tennessee, has repeatedly lampooned Gillibrand as being protected by her ‘party bosses,’ an argument that Ford advisers believe resonates with nationwide anti-Washington sentiment.”) Her gibes about Ford’s expedient transformation on hot-button issues ring a bit hollow given her conversion on Second Amendment rights (she became enamored of gun regulation only after her appointment to the Senate). You can see why Ford might think he’s got a real chance.

But Ford is not without his problems. The liberal-Democratic establishment has decided he’s too moderate and untrustworthy. For example, he eschews business-bashing at a time when that is de rigueur for Democrats.

The Republicans have yet to come up with a top-tier candidate, despite the giddy optimism circulating in Republican circles post–Scott Brown. But before we get to the general election, there should be plenty to watch and enjoy for those who love a good show. In some ways, it’s an interesting test for Democrats, just as the Florida Senate primary race is for Republicans. (Marco Rubio has come from far back to now lead the establishment favorite Crist in the latest poll.) No, neither is evidence of a “civil war” within the respective party. Rather, both will convey some key political information: whether the association with Beltway-establishment types is the kiss of death and whether a skilled challenger without that taint (Ford in New York and Rubio in Florida) can overcome the money and name recognition that also come with it.

This is going to be fun. The “this” is the New York Democratic Senate primary, which is going to make up for that Rudy Giuliani vs. Hillary Clinton matchup that political fans were deprived of when Giuliani decided not to make a Senate run in 2000. A sample:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is finally heeding New York Democrats’ advice that she get tough with Harold Ford Jr. — slamming the former Memphis congressman as an anti-gay-rights, anti-abortion, anti-immigrant tool of Wall Street money lords. The problem for Gillibrand: Ford is embracing New York’s slappy-face politics faster than she can generate the comebacks. On Monday, Ford dismissed Gillibrand as a party-controlled “parakeet.” For good measure, his spokesman told POLITICO that Gillibrand is a “desperate liar.”

Yowser. And it’s only January.

Now Gillibrand has some problems. She’s an incumbent when incumbents are out of favor. She hasn’t done anything memorable. And to a degree, Ford is right: she morphed from a moderate, somewhat independent-minded congresswoman into a loyal cog in the Reid-Pelosi-Obama machine, never raising a  fuss about the KSM trial or objecting to the ObamaCare deals that would have cost her state billions had we not been saved by the Massachusetts voters. (“The 39-year-old Ford, who relocated to New York after losing a 2006 Senate race in Tennessee, has repeatedly lampooned Gillibrand as being protected by her ‘party bosses,’ an argument that Ford advisers believe resonates with nationwide anti-Washington sentiment.”) Her gibes about Ford’s expedient transformation on hot-button issues ring a bit hollow given her conversion on Second Amendment rights (she became enamored of gun regulation only after her appointment to the Senate). You can see why Ford might think he’s got a real chance.

But Ford is not without his problems. The liberal-Democratic establishment has decided he’s too moderate and untrustworthy. For example, he eschews business-bashing at a time when that is de rigueur for Democrats.

The Republicans have yet to come up with a top-tier candidate, despite the giddy optimism circulating in Republican circles post–Scott Brown. But before we get to the general election, there should be plenty to watch and enjoy for those who love a good show. In some ways, it’s an interesting test for Democrats, just as the Florida Senate primary race is for Republicans. (Marco Rubio has come from far back to now lead the establishment favorite Crist in the latest poll.) No, neither is evidence of a “civil war” within the respective party. Rather, both will convey some key political information: whether the association with Beltway-establishment types is the kiss of death and whether a skilled challenger without that taint (Ford in New York and Rubio in Florida) can overcome the money and name recognition that also come with it.

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The Touch of Political Death?

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The White House is reaching into political races nationwide to urge its preferred candidates to seek election to competitive seats, while helping to nudge weak contenders out of the way, according to party officials familiar with the moves.

It isn’t unusual for a president to pick favorites, but the sense of urgency is heightened this year by Democrats’ sense that a difficult election year lies ahead.

Sometimes this might make sense, as with the effort to push Chris Dodd into retirement and potentially rescue the Connecticut Senate seat that had appeared lost as long as the senator from Countrywide remained in the race. But the danger of White House meddling is three-fold.

First, the appearance on the scene of the White House political hacks has the aura of buzzards circling a bleeding beast. For example:

In Ohio, White House political director Patrick Gaspard has been in conversations with Gov. Ted Strickland, whose approval ratings have slipped and who is facing a challenge from former Republican Rep. John Kasich. Democrats there say the White House is backing Mr. Strickland’s re-election bid but is focused on reigniting the grassroots effort that helped Mr. Obama win there in 2008 and would be necessary for success again in 2012.

Translation: Strickland is in trouble (having gone from a huge double-digit lead to a 9-point deficit in the last Rasmussen poll in his matchup against John Kasich), and the White House has now advertised that to voters and donors alike. No doubt Strickland isn’t pleased to have it known that he’s been paid a visit by the White House fix-it team.

Second, this may not be the year to be the handpicked candidate of Barack Obama. It didn’t do Jon Corzine any good. And that was in a state in which Obama is still relatively popular. Do candidates in Michigan or Ohio really want to be tied to the White House and its agenda? That seemed to work out not at all for Creigh Deeds in Virginia.

And finally, it’s not clear that the White House has the magic touch. It seems that the White House is backing Kirsten Gillibrand against a potential challenge from Harold Ford Jr. (who doesn’t thrill the liberal base), but is Gillibrand really the strongest candidate in the field? (In December, the Quinnipiac poll reported: “New York City Comptroller William Thompson leads incumbent U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand 41 – 28 percent in a possible 2010 Democratic primary race.”) And recall it was the White House, with the keen political acumen of Joe Biden, that convinced Arlen Specter to switch parties and now is backing him in the Pennsylvania primary, though he’s now tied with Republican Pat Toomey in recent polling.

The White House’s triage efforts are understandable. Democrats may be headed for a shellacking in November, so it’s time to pull out all the stops. But it’s not at all clear that candidates selected by the White House will fare any better than those whom Democratic voters, through a normal primary process, may select. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that Democrats are in trouble in no small part because of the White House’s hyper-partisan tone, ultra-left-wing agenda, and fixation on a health-care bill the country doesn’t want. Democrats might do better if they distanced themselves from Obama and found candidates who weren’t propped up by the gang that thought ObamaCare and cap-and-trade were political winners.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

The White House is reaching into political races nationwide to urge its preferred candidates to seek election to competitive seats, while helping to nudge weak contenders out of the way, according to party officials familiar with the moves.

It isn’t unusual for a president to pick favorites, but the sense of urgency is heightened this year by Democrats’ sense that a difficult election year lies ahead.

Sometimes this might make sense, as with the effort to push Chris Dodd into retirement and potentially rescue the Connecticut Senate seat that had appeared lost as long as the senator from Countrywide remained in the race. But the danger of White House meddling is three-fold.

First, the appearance on the scene of the White House political hacks has the aura of buzzards circling a bleeding beast. For example:

In Ohio, White House political director Patrick Gaspard has been in conversations with Gov. Ted Strickland, whose approval ratings have slipped and who is facing a challenge from former Republican Rep. John Kasich. Democrats there say the White House is backing Mr. Strickland’s re-election bid but is focused on reigniting the grassroots effort that helped Mr. Obama win there in 2008 and would be necessary for success again in 2012.

Translation: Strickland is in trouble (having gone from a huge double-digit lead to a 9-point deficit in the last Rasmussen poll in his matchup against John Kasich), and the White House has now advertised that to voters and donors alike. No doubt Strickland isn’t pleased to have it known that he’s been paid a visit by the White House fix-it team.

Second, this may not be the year to be the handpicked candidate of Barack Obama. It didn’t do Jon Corzine any good. And that was in a state in which Obama is still relatively popular. Do candidates in Michigan or Ohio really want to be tied to the White House and its agenda? That seemed to work out not at all for Creigh Deeds in Virginia.

And finally, it’s not clear that the White House has the magic touch. It seems that the White House is backing Kirsten Gillibrand against a potential challenge from Harold Ford Jr. (who doesn’t thrill the liberal base), but is Gillibrand really the strongest candidate in the field? (In December, the Quinnipiac poll reported: “New York City Comptroller William Thompson leads incumbent U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand 41 – 28 percent in a possible 2010 Democratic primary race.”) And recall it was the White House, with the keen political acumen of Joe Biden, that convinced Arlen Specter to switch parties and now is backing him in the Pennsylvania primary, though he’s now tied with Republican Pat Toomey in recent polling.

The White House’s triage efforts are understandable. Democrats may be headed for a shellacking in November, so it’s time to pull out all the stops. But it’s not at all clear that candidates selected by the White House will fare any better than those whom Democratic voters, through a normal primary process, may select. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that Democrats are in trouble in no small part because of the White House’s hyper-partisan tone, ultra-left-wing agenda, and fixation on a health-care bill the country doesn’t want. Democrats might do better if they distanced themselves from Obama and found candidates who weren’t propped up by the gang that thought ObamaCare and cap-and-trade were political winners.

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New York: The Carpetbagger State Welcomes Harold Ford

You would think that out of the nearly 20 million people who live in the Empire State, the two major parties would be able to find at least two distinguished citizens fit to represent New York in the United States Senate. But the state has a sorry recent tradition of outsourcing Senate seats as carpetbagger politicians parachute in to serve in the nation’s highest deliberative body on its behalf. In 1964, though he had not lived in New York for decades, Bobby Kennedy exploited his brother’s martyrdom and his own charisma to win a Senate seat that he would briefly warm (until his own tragic assassination) while plotting to recapture the White House for his family. Thirty-six years later, Hillary Clinton, a native of suburban Chicago and former first lady of Arkansas, arrived here to establish residency and “listen” to New Yorkers, who obediently elected her to the Senate just as her husband was vacating the executive mansion in Washington.

The latest immigrant to New York to consider himself qualified to represent it in the Senate is Harold Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman who was defeated by the citizens of his native state when he ran for a Senate seat in 2006. Since then, the young and handsome Ford moved to Manhattan, where he took a job as vice chairman of Merrill Lynch and appeared as an occasional talking head on MSNBC. The New York Times reports today that some New York Democrats want Ford to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand, the upstate senator who was appointed by Gov. David Paterson to fill the seat Clinton vacated when she left for the State Department a year ago.

Like Gillibrand, Ford will have to “adjust” his positions on a number of issues if he wants to be the standard-bearer for New York’s ultraliberal Democratic Party. In the House, Gillibrand was an opponent of illegal immigration and a supporter of the right to bear arms. Since coming to the Senate and accepting the role of female Sancho Panza to senior Senator Chuck Schumer, Gillibrand has flipped on immigration and gun control. Similarly, Ford will have to ditch his opposition to gay marriage to please liberal Dems. But though Ford is a relative newcomer to the Big Apple, he appears to have always been in an “Empire State of Mind” when it came to fundraising. According to the Times, a third of the $15 million he raised for his 2006 Senate run came from New York.

Ford’s challenge is an indication of Gillibrand’s weakness. Her lackluster performance in the Senate could give the Republicans a chance to knock off an incumbent, but with Rudy Giuliani opting out of the race, Long Island Rep. Peter King appears to be the only Republican with enough stature for a chance at winning the seat. Though any Democrat, even Gillibrand, ought to be favored to win in New York, the rumblings of support for Ford, who might become the only African-American in the Senate next year (with Roland Burris’s lease of the Illinois seat left by Barack Obama about to expire), show that the possibility of a GOP tide drowning weak liberal incumbents in 2010 is being taken seriously.

Schumer, who has been traveling the state twisting arms to ensure that his protégé goes unchallenged, has a lot to lose if a Ford victory ditches the notion that he is the kingmaker of New York politics. But however it turns out, let’s hope we are spared the spectacle of this son of Tennessee claiming to be a lifelong New York Yankees fan as Hillary did in 2000. But no matter which team he says he roots for, Ford has little to worry about when it comes to sincerity on such matters. Clinton’s victory illustrated that although New Yorkers pride themselves on being able to spot a phony from out of town from a mile away, it doesn’t mean they won’t vote for one.

You would think that out of the nearly 20 million people who live in the Empire State, the two major parties would be able to find at least two distinguished citizens fit to represent New York in the United States Senate. But the state has a sorry recent tradition of outsourcing Senate seats as carpetbagger politicians parachute in to serve in the nation’s highest deliberative body on its behalf. In 1964, though he had not lived in New York for decades, Bobby Kennedy exploited his brother’s martyrdom and his own charisma to win a Senate seat that he would briefly warm (until his own tragic assassination) while plotting to recapture the White House for his family. Thirty-six years later, Hillary Clinton, a native of suburban Chicago and former first lady of Arkansas, arrived here to establish residency and “listen” to New Yorkers, who obediently elected her to the Senate just as her husband was vacating the executive mansion in Washington.

The latest immigrant to New York to consider himself qualified to represent it in the Senate is Harold Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman who was defeated by the citizens of his native state when he ran for a Senate seat in 2006. Since then, the young and handsome Ford moved to Manhattan, where he took a job as vice chairman of Merrill Lynch and appeared as an occasional talking head on MSNBC. The New York Times reports today that some New York Democrats want Ford to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand, the upstate senator who was appointed by Gov. David Paterson to fill the seat Clinton vacated when she left for the State Department a year ago.

Like Gillibrand, Ford will have to “adjust” his positions on a number of issues if he wants to be the standard-bearer for New York’s ultraliberal Democratic Party. In the House, Gillibrand was an opponent of illegal immigration and a supporter of the right to bear arms. Since coming to the Senate and accepting the role of female Sancho Panza to senior Senator Chuck Schumer, Gillibrand has flipped on immigration and gun control. Similarly, Ford will have to ditch his opposition to gay marriage to please liberal Dems. But though Ford is a relative newcomer to the Big Apple, he appears to have always been in an “Empire State of Mind” when it came to fundraising. According to the Times, a third of the $15 million he raised for his 2006 Senate run came from New York.

Ford’s challenge is an indication of Gillibrand’s weakness. Her lackluster performance in the Senate could give the Republicans a chance to knock off an incumbent, but with Rudy Giuliani opting out of the race, Long Island Rep. Peter King appears to be the only Republican with enough stature for a chance at winning the seat. Though any Democrat, even Gillibrand, ought to be favored to win in New York, the rumblings of support for Ford, who might become the only African-American in the Senate next year (with Roland Burris’s lease of the Illinois seat left by Barack Obama about to expire), show that the possibility of a GOP tide drowning weak liberal incumbents in 2010 is being taken seriously.

Schumer, who has been traveling the state twisting arms to ensure that his protégé goes unchallenged, has a lot to lose if a Ford victory ditches the notion that he is the kingmaker of New York politics. But however it turns out, let’s hope we are spared the spectacle of this son of Tennessee claiming to be a lifelong New York Yankees fan as Hillary did in 2000. But no matter which team he says he roots for, Ford has little to worry about when it comes to sincerity on such matters. Clinton’s victory illustrated that although New Yorkers pride themselves on being able to spot a phony from out of town from a mile away, it doesn’t mean they won’t vote for one.

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