Midterm Elections, Harold Ford's Senate Run

Juan Williams is joined by Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and GOP strategist Robert Traynham. They talk about the latest in campaign news as the midterm elections approach, including Harold Ford's run for Senate and his playboy reputation.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Midterm elections are just around the corner. Here with some perspective is NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams and his regular panel of political analysts for our Political Corner. Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Thanks, Farai.

I'm joined now by Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000. Ms. Brazile now runs her own political consulting firm here in Washington. Also with us, Robert Traynham; he's a Washington Republican political strategist, now working in the Senate. Robert joins us from Pennsylvania, where he's on the campaign trail. Donna, Robert, thank you for joining us on Political Corner.

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Democratic Consultant): Thank you, Juan.

Mr. ROBERT TRAYNHAM (Republican Strategist): Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Let's start with Harold Ford's campaign for the Senate in Tennessee against Republican Bob Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga. There were several ads run there that caught the attention of people because they felt they were overly racial, especially a TV ad that ended with a young white woman saying, call me, Harold, and referring to a Playboy party that Harold Ford had attended.

Do you believe that was a racial appeal in coded language, Robert Traynham?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Well, there's no question about it, that Mr. Ford did acknowledge that he did go to a Playboy party. He's acknowledged that he likes women and he likes politics. And so Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, did go on national television defending the ad. It's not a Corker ad. It is an RNC ad. So there's a big distinction there.

Corker has come out and said that he does not condone and/or embrace that ad. And that there's no question about it that it does raise some eyebrows in some Republican circles and also in some racial circles. But it does underscore the fact that Mr. Ford is a quote-unquote "partying individual" who does enjoy the high life.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, actually, Ken Mehlman and some other Republicans have said to me that they think there's a generational split in the response on this ad, that older folks do see the coded language, but younger people who aren't as troubled by interracial dating might not be. Do you think that's fair or is that a rationalization?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: No, I actually think that's a very valid point. I mean keep in mind this is still the South and keep in mind that there are some older individuals out there that still remember the Jim Crow South. And obviously you have a younger generation that doesn't remember that and/or doesn't think that's an issue.

So there's no question about it, that there is a generational issue there. No question.

WILLIAMS: Donna Brazile, do you think it was dirty politics, and especially dirty politics against the first black man that could rise to the U.S. Senate from the South since Reconstruction?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I found the ad very distasteful, tacky, and yes, I do believe there was a coded appeal. Look, it was just a generation ago that African-American men in the South were lynched, beaten, for even looking at a white woman, let alone whistling at a white woman.

So the RNC Independent Expenditure Committee could have put a black bunny, a brown bunny, any bunny, but they decided to put a white blonde bunny. They knew exactly what they were doing. And I'm glad that the ad has come down. I'm still concerned that some people think it's generational when in fact it is not. It is something we should avoid in politics.

There was a way to make the statement that Harold Ford, a single individual, single man - look, I have a lot of single male friends, and yes, they enjoy going out, watching football games, going out with women, and there's nothing wrong with that.

If we somehow or another say single men cannot go out and enjoy themselves, then my God, nobody would be qualified for office. So let's talk about the issues. Harold Ford has gotten, I think, back on track, talking about the issues, raising legitimate concerns about the war in Iraq. And hopefully this election, the voters of Tennessee will disregard that ad and vote based on qualifications and vision of the country.

And I've known Harold Ford since he was very, very young. And he is so - he's a respectful guy, he has a lot of integrity, he conducts himself well, he speaks well, he is a strong leader and somebody who I believe will represent Tennessee very well in the United States Senate.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: There's no question about it, that Harold Ford has two lives. He has a life in Washington, D.C. that he lives the high life. But he also has this perceived life in Tennessee, where he is down home, he wears the jeans, you know, with the shirtsleeves rolled up and he's in the church.

The point is, that this is a person's character, this is a person's - this is certainly relevant in the campaign where he's saying one thing in one city but doing something completely different in another.

Ms. BRAZILE: I know Harold Ford. Harold Ford does not live a double life. What you see in Harold Ford, a young man who, as I've said, he has accumulated a very moderate voting record, he has been strong on the economy, he's been strong on healthcare. He has been a good member of Congress, reelected by overwhelming margins for the longest period of time.

And for, you know, Mr. Corker and the Republicans to try to tarnish this guy by, you know, alleging or at least putting out statements that somehow or another he's corrupted or Washington has corrupted him, that is not true. Harold Ford is a down-home, good old-fashioned Tennessee moderate.

WILLIAMS: Robert Traynham, what's your prediction for the Tennessee Senate race?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: I think it's going to go to Corker. I think Corker's probably going to win by five points. I think in terms of the Harold Ford that Tennesseans see in Washington is completely different from the Harold Ford they see around campaign time when he's back home in Tennessee. And I think most Tennesseans say, you know what, with all due respect, this is not someone that we're going to go with. I think Corker will pull this off.

WILLIAMS: Robert Traynham is a senior political strategist for the Republicans here in Washington but at the moment out in Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania area doing some campaigning. And Donna Brazile, of course, is a political strategist based here in Washington. She was the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000.

Donna, Robert, thank you for joining us on Political Corner this week.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Thank you.

Ms. BRAZILE: Thank you, Robert. Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Back to you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Thanks, Juan. Join Juan Williams and his Washington insiders every week right here on Political Corner.

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