In a meeting with Politico reporters, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen referred to a commercial aired against then-Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) in his unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 2006 as an example of the kind of advertising that could backfire against McCain, the Arizona senator and presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
The ad against Ford, produced by the Republican National Committee on behalf of Republican Bob Corker’s campaign, showed a white actress saying she had met Ford at the Playboy mansion and ended with her saying, “Harold, call me.”
“The reality of the ad, which I think ought to be a lesson for McCain right now, is that ad helped Harold Ford, absolutely,” Bredesen said.
To start with, the “bimbo” allusion wasn’t racist. The Democrat politician with the greatest “bimbo” problem is Bill Clinton, and his performance during his wife’s campaign has put to rest the idea that he was “America’s first black president.”
Beyond that, as I noted at the time, some of the reasons for Bob Corker’s win were as follows:
- Corker’s general election campaign started out as a fiasco, with poor ads and an unfocused effort. Corker had the wisdom to dump his campaign people and get people in who knew what they were doing and let them run his campaign properly. His ads improved along with everything else, including his poll numbers. His ability to change course for victory needs to be noted in the White House.
- Corker did hammer at Ford’s voting record. The image that this campaign was strictly a series of negative personal attacks doesn’t tell the whole story. Corker had the advantage in that he could run against an opponent with ten years of votes in the House (when he bothered to show up, which he frequently didn’t) while Corker had been in executive positions, both in government and business. Ford’s voting record was atypically liberal for the state and Corker made the most of that.
- Ford’s attempts to portray himself as an “ordinary Tennessean” couldn’t withstand the hammering of a competitive campaign. As Bob Novak hilariously pointed out, every time Ford mentioned the Lord he lost 1,000 votes. That’s part of Ford’s record problem. We took issue with that ourselves during the campaign.
- Ford’s greatest gaffe was what I call the “parking lot debate” on 20 October when he crashed a Corker press conference in Memphis. That did not sit well with people here, especially independents. It was the beginning of his downward slide to defeat.
Bredesen has done a service for the Republicans because the analogy between the Ford-Corker and Obama-McCain races is a strong one. (Thanks, Phil for reminding us!) Ford was attempting to portray himself as a “new” type of candidate who just happens to be black, just as Obama is. And the “parking lot” debate is very instructive: it was the act of a very overconfident Ford, who offended many people. Someone as snobbish as Obama, who in his own spin is running for “Dominus et Deus” rather than President, could easily pull one or more mistakes like it.
McCain’s people could take some lessons from this. Bob Corker is the only Republican freshman senator in the congress now fading fast, and there’s a reason for that.