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Ford Officially Enters Tenn. Senate Contest

Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) made his Senate bid official Wednesday, formally pushing the launch button on a statewide campaign that has been in the making for years.

Ford has long been expected to seek the seat of retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R), who is adhering to a term-limits pledge and ramping up for a likely White House bid in 2008.

Ford revealed his plans in a video-streamed statement on his campaign Web site.

“With five good terms in the House behind me, and so many good people beside me, I believe I’m ready to meet the challenges ahead of us in a way that will make Tennesseans as proud of me as I am of Tennessee,” Ford said.

In an accompanying written statement, the Congressman said he was running to ease voters’ frustration with “leaders [who] are not focused on real problems.”

“There is a growing gap between the government and the people,” he said. “That gap must be closed.”

The Congressman also registered a Senate campaign committee with the Federal Election Commission this week. As of March 31, he had $1.6 million in his House re-election account — all of which can be transferred and used on his Senate bid.

Ford raked in $771,000 in the first three months of this year alone.

But on his Web site Wednesday, he urged supporters to dig deeper into their pockets and prepare for the battle ahead.

“I need your thoughts, financial support, time and your prayers,” he said.

While the Congressman — the heir to a Memphis political family dynasty — is considered the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nod in the August 2006 primary, he does not have an entirely clear path.

State Sen. Rosalind Kurita (D) is also running for the Senate seat and in a statement Wednesday she said Ford’s formal entry into the race would have little impact on her campaign. And she reiterated her argument that as a small business owner and registered nurse who has won tough legislative races in Republican-leaning districts that she would be a stronger Democratic nominee in the general election.

“I’m not a career politician,” Kurita said. “I got involved in politics to build a lunchroom in my children’s school.”

The field of Republicans vying for Frist’s seat is even more crowded. Former Reps. Ed Bryant and Van Hilleary as well as former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker and state Rep. Beth Harwell are all running for the GOP nod.

Bryant, Hilleary and Corker have all run and lost statewide bids before. Harwell served as state Republican Party chairwoman for the past four years.

A Democratic poll conducted in March showed Ford running neck and neck in head to head matchups with his potential GOP rivals. In a statement Wednesday, Bryant, who lost the 2002 GOP Senate primary, used Ford’s entry into the race to argue that he is best-equipped to win the general election — in part because he and Ford share a geographic base.

“Harold Ford Jr.’s decision to run for the U.S. Senate underscores how critical it is for Republicans to nominate a solid, proven and honest conservative who can win the general election with the support of Republicans and conservative swing voters throughout the state, particularly in West Tennessee,” Bryant said.

The same Democratic survey showed Ford beating Kurita, 62 percent to 15 percent, in the primary.

Still, Ford allies acknowledge the road to winning a Senate seat in a state that has trended more and more Republican in recent years is mostly uphill.

A member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, Ford has carefully compiled a moderate voting record in the House.

“I run to put problem solving ahead of partisanship and principle ahead of party,” he said in his written statement.

Ford, who just turned 35, is from a well-known and influential political family in West Tennessee. He has represented Memphis in the House since 1996, when he succeeded his father, Rep. Harold Ford Sr. (D).

While his father still remains popular, Ford will have to work to distinguish himself from his uncle, John Ford, a state Senator with a reputation for being a loose cannon — and who recently made headlines with a number of colorful episodes involving his personal and professional life.

If elected, Ford would be the first black Senator from Tennessee and the first black Senator elected from the South since Reconstruction.

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