Harold Ford Jr. gets a boost from New York Times

By A. James Memmott

January 26, 2010 at 8:46am

First rule of New York state politics: Unannounced candidates get more attention than candidates who have actually made their intentions known.

Gov. Mario M. Cuomo knew this when he hemmed and hawed over a presidential run.

His son, Attorney Gen. Andrew M. Cuomo, is currently playing the waiting game with great success, not announcing his expected run for governor.

And now to great fanfare, Harold E. Ford Jr., 39, a former congressman from Tennessee, has captured the spotlight by suggesting, just suggesting, he might run for the Senate from New York.

Harold E. Ford Jr.
Harold Ford Jr.

The speculation began on Jan. 6 with a New York Times story by Michael Barbaro.

It reported that Ford was thinking of waging a primary challenge against Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand for the Democratic nomination in this year’s Senate race.

Until then, Gillibrand, who was appointed to the Senate in 2008 when Hillary Rodham Clinton stepped down to become secretary of state, seemed to have the race all to herself.

Since the Jan. 6 story, the Times has offered a series of stories and blog items on Ford, tracking his every diner stop, his every church visit.

The Times editorial page has also weighed in, scolding “Democratic insiders in Washington” for trying to scare off possible candidates against Gillibrand.

On Jan. 25, the Times gave Ford valuable editorial-page real estate, running an op-ed essay in which Ford urged Democrats to focus on the economy in the wake of Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race.

In a tag line, Ford was identified as a former congressman, but no mention was made of his possible candidacy for the Senate.

That candidacy would seem to be all but announced, as Ford is now showing up away from Manhattan, as Barbaro reported in a sometimes-gushy story Monday.

“In the first week of a statewide tour, (Ford) is quickly revealing what kind of candidate he would be: an effortless retail politician, equally at ease in baroque restaurants and Baptist churches, who makes instant, Clinton-like connections with voters,” Barbaro wrote.

The story goes on to note Ford’s “personable approach and commanding presence” and his “amiable, everyman style.”

Gillibrand is mentioned twice in passing, first as the candidate Ford may challenge and then as the person Ford says “party bosses” are trying to protect.

Some critics have noted that in positioning himself against party bosses (Sen. Charles E. Schumer, et al) Ford may be running away from his own time as a Washington insider.

The son of a congressman from Memphis, he spent much of his youth in Washington, graduating from the prestigious St. Albans School, the alma mater of former Vice President Al Gore.

Ford came back to Washington after college and law school when he was elected to Congress in 1996 at the age of 26. He served five terms before losing a race for the Senate in 2006.

A few months later, he moved to New York City to work for Merrill Lynch. He has taken leave from the firm, now part of Bank of America, to explore a Senate race.

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