Politics & Policy

Ford and Corker: The Ad War and the Question of Temperament

Has the Tennessee Senate race reached a "pivotal moment"?

Republican Senate candidate Bob Corker has asked Tennessee television stations not to run an advertisement created by the Republican National Committee attacking Corker’s opponent, Rep. Harold Ford Jr.

“On Friday afternoon, the Corker for Senate campaign denounced a new RNC advertisement that is ‘over the top, tacky and not reflective of the kind of campaign we are running,’“ wrote Tom Ingram, chairman of the Corker campaign, in a letter to station managers. “We are disappointed that the advertisement continues to run and request that station managers across the state strongly consider pulling this advertisement immediately.”

The ad features several people posing as man-in-the-street interviews, all attacking Ford. “Terrorists need their privacy,” says the first person. “When I die, Harold Ford will let me pay taxes again,” says another. “Ford’s right,” says a third, “I do have too many guns.” Then, in the part of the ad that has gotten the most attention, a young woman in a sexy outfit says, “I met Harold at the Playboy party.” After a few other people speak, the ad returns to the woman, who says, “Harold — call me.”

The mention of Playboy is a reference to reports that Ford attended a party thrown by Playboy magazine at the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. The issue has popped up occasionally in the campaign, most recently after Ford broadcast an ad of himself in church. The National Republican Senatorial Committee responded with an ad that said, “What kind of man parties with Playboy playmates in lingerie, then films political ads from a church pew?” Ford, who has not denied attending the event, has tried to avoid talking about it. Appearing on ABC, he said, “I’ve never been to a Playboy mansion party,” apparently referring to the famed Playboy house in California, not the Super Bowl party in Florida. Now that another ad making reference to the party, this one produced by the RNC, has appeared, the Corker campaign has released a statement saying that Corker “believes this new ad has no place in this, or any other campaign.”

Meanwhile, Corker campaign staffers say they think the race may have reached a “pivotal moment” last week with Ford’s unannounced appearance at a Corker press conference in Memphis. The purpose of the conference was to announce a new lobbying reform plan that Corker says he will introduce if he is elected to the Senate. Its main feature would bar immediate family members of senators and representatives from lobbying the body of Congress in which their relative serves. The proposal is a reference to the fact that Ford’s father, former Rep. Harold Ford Sr., is a lobbyist representing the financial giant Fannie Mae, while his son serves on the House Financial Services Committee. Corker has suggested that Ford Sr. may have improperly lobbied Ford Jr., a charge Ford Jr. has strongly denied.

Ford apparently wanted a confrontation on the issue when he showed up at Corker’s news conference. “I know you’re here to talk about my family,” Ford said. “No, I’m here to talk about you,” Corker answered. Ford said he wanted to engage Corker in a discussion about Iraq, but Corker didn’t cooperate. “I came to talk about ethics, and I have a press conference,” Corker told Ford. “It’s a true sign of desperation that you would pull your bus up when I’m having a press conference.”

“No sir,” Ford answered. “I can never find you anywhere in the state.” The two men have had two debates televised state-wide, are scheduled to take part in another this Saturday, and have made other joint appearances.

The press-conference face-off received big play on television in Memphis and around the state. “It was a juvenile stunt,” one Corker official told National Review Online. “We are pleased with it, because it draws more attention to the lobby reform plan that Bob unveiled.”

But it does more than that, Corker’s advisers believe. They are now trying to use the incident — which they have dubbed the “Memphis Meltdown” — to question Ford’s temperament and fitness to serve in the Senate. On Monday, the Corker campaign sent out a press release headlined, “Ford’s Temperament, Un-Senatorial Behavior, Lack of Maturity, Become Major Issue in Tennessee Senate Race.” The incident, Corker’s campaign claims, underscores allegations that Ford can sometimes be hot-headed.

The Corker release also pointed to a November 2005 incident in the House during which Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt delivered a scathing speech attacking Democratic Rep. John Murtha over Murtha’s call to “redeploy” troops from Iraq. Corker cited an account of the event in the New York Times which said, “Representative Harold Ford, Democrat of Tennessee, charged across the chamber’s center aisle to the Republican side screaming that Ms. Schmidt’s attack had been unwarranted.” The Corker release suggested that Ford’s temperament has become a “front and center issue” in the Senate campaign.

In turn, Ford has said that the Corker campaign is “in the gutter.” “I think my opponent has gotten very nervous and skittish, and this isn’t the first ad that’s been in the gutter,” Ford said on CNN Sunday. “He’s been in the gutter on this campaign since the [Republican] primary ended in August.”

 Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of the book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.

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