Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ford Stumbles, or The October Surprise, or "Ford Bus Crashes on Runway"

It had to seem like a good idea to Harold Ford Jr and his campaign handlers: Swoop in on a Bob Corker event and take over, making Corker look bad. They were no doubt assured in their belief in Ford's on-camera glibness and charisma based on previous forums with Corker. Pounce, let kitty play with the mouse, gloat.

Except a strange thing happened on the way to political legend: Bob Corker displayed a backbone . When the Ford campaign behemoth bus started circling the Wilson Airport parking lot, then opened its door to drop Harold Himself onto the tarmac Corker didn't duck into a building, trying to hide. Instead he strode over to Ford, got in his face, took control of the situation, told Ford what he was going to do, then turned and walked away. Leaving Ford to stand there, close to sputtering, explaining to the cameras.

For Ford it's almost the worst of all possible outcomes. (The worst would have been Corker telling the media pool, "Come with me back to the press conference." and having them follow, showing Ford standing there, alone and receding, on the parking lot. Not keeping the cameras with him was a Corker mistake.) Ford tried an ambush and Tennessee got to see that, when ambushed, Corker could rise to the occasion and act decisively. Even if the moment was small, Bob was devastating. Who knew?

That's the point. You can't know until the moment strikes, as it did (in far larger and more sweeping ways) for Roosevelt on December 7, 1941 and for G. W. Bush on September 11, 2001. Ford unwittingly handed Corker his decisive moment and Corker proved himself ready. On camera. Campaigns live and die by this stuff. Remember Bush being told at the Florida school about the WTC attacks?

Someone in the Corker campaign needs to move fast and, in a Clintonesque fashion, devise a nickname for Bob based on the moment, like "Backbone Bob" or something. A strong, catchy reminder; something that everyone but the campaign can use to constantly drive the point home. Not that I expect that to happen; Corker's new campaign staff still seem to be the usual dim-witted plodders that you always find. But the opportunity is there. Clinton had many faults, but seizing the moment wasn't among them.

It wasn't a good day for Ford anyway. Tennessee's highest-profile blogger, Instapundit, one of the biggest in the nation with more readers than all but a few newspapers, declined to vote for Ford. Although he's widely and incorrectly assumed to be a conservative, Professor Glenn Reynolds will be the first to tell you he's a Democrat -- albeit a self-described "9/11 Democrat," one whose worldview was altered by that day so that national security became Issue One.

Instapundit is precisely the voter that Ford needs to win: centrist independents, Democrats and Republicans who are security-minded. That he couldn't sway Reynolds is telling.

But he's not the only Democrat who remains unconvinced. In Shelby County -- where Ford's base is, the engine of his victory -- the lefty blogosphere is notable for its antipathy to Ford. They too are just the voters he needs: white and middle-class. But if you read The Flypaper Theory, LeftWingCracker, River City Mud Bugle and The Freedonian you see a litany of disgust verging on anger with Ford. Most of them loudly announced during the primaries that they would not vote for Ford only to ostentatiously recant and decide to hold their noses when they voted for him.

It's interesting to me that while Ford gets lots of media attention this little bit of backfire goes uncommented. I guess it doesn't fit the narrative of the Great Mocha Hope that is Harold Ford Jr.

One bit of irony, too. Corker's press conference was to talk about "ethics" legislation, which was all keyed to Ford's family shenanigans. Ford called him on it. It's something Ford just can't get away from and lately he's been getting a bit testy on it. (That may be what launched the ill-fated bus-drop.) I watched the Saturday morning news, just to see what kind of coverage the "presser crasher" story got. WREG/Newschannel 3 carried the story and then immediately followed it with a story about former State Senator John Ford's inability to pay alimony to one of his many mistresses / ex-wives. Harold and his family; paired like ... well, family.

The Ford campaign will sweat out the weekend. This kind of mano a mano confrontation is just what the media loves. The story was on the Drudge Report Friday evening! Will it make the Sunday news shows? I'd imagine the Ford people are worried now about how to handle it. Leave it alone and hope? Call the shows today to downplay the story, only to arouse their interest and have it picked up? A true "damned if you do, damned if you don't" quandary.

I've said since the beginning that this was Corker's race to lose. The polls have been a toss-up since the primaries, despite the newspaper horserace headlines. (Note to reporters: If a candidate is leading by 2 or 3% and the poll's margin of error is 2 to 4 %, then the race is a statistical dead heat. Talking about someone "leading" is just bad reporting. Stupid reporters....) Corker was tilting slightly ahead again in a poll released this week, and a Tennessee legislator says that unreleased numbers show Corker with a true lead and momentum. After Friday's flub, Corker was handed a big boost. Can he build on it for the next two weeks?

"Backbone Bob." Remember, you read it here first!

See the full video here. Click the "Harold Ford Junior Crashes Corker Presser" link in the "Add to Playlist" box.

No comments: