Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bucking the Establishment

Since when does a newly minted US Senator have to run unopposed in their party's primary? That is apparently the belief of the Democratic party establishment in New York, where top Democrats from Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer on down thinks that Harold Ford Jr should not run a primary campaign against Kristen Gillibrand, who was installed by Governor David Paterson to replace Hillary Clinton when she was confirmed as US Secretary of State.

Democrats, including Chuck Schumer, are busy trying to avert a potentially bruising primary race for the US Senate in New York because of the ongoing concerns over the economy and the likelihood that the GOP will score big nationally - and that money that would be spent on a primary run in New York could be used elsewhere to prop up sagging campaigns in key districts.

Yet, that still doesn't explain why primary race between qualified candidates shouldn't be held. We only have the motivation to avoid a primary battle - and that's not a reason to prevent Ford from running.

Is this Gillibrand's seat? Would it not be in the state's best interest to have the best candidate running for office, and not just one who the establishment and party bosses want to see run?

That's all the more reason to see Ford run a campaign. Ford, who came to New York after losing a reelection battle for his House seat in Tennessee, thinks he can be an independent voice among Democrats. That remains to be seen, but going toe to toe with the party elites shows he has some moxie and spirit:
“If I am elected senator from New York, Harry Reid will not instruct me how to vote,” he said, referring to Mr. Reid’s efforts to keep him out of the campaign.

Mr. Ford agreed to the interview with The New York Times as he tests the response to his possible candidacy. His interest in the race, reported a week ago, has set off intense reaction and furious strategizing among Senate Democratic leaders and White House officials, as they try to discourage his campaign and avoid an ugly and expensive primary in September that could risk losing a crucial Senate seat.

A Ford campaign could become a delicate subject for the Obama administration, however, which is more reluctant to assert itself in New York politics after failing last year in its effort to elbow Gov. David A. Paterson out of his election bid.

Mr. Ford said he had been emboldened by the response he had received from the public in recent days. Everyone — from the cabdrivers who shuttle him around the city to the executives with whom he rubs elbows on Wall Street — has urged him to run, he said.

During a trip from New York to Palm Beach on Thursday, flight attendants and passengers stopped in the aisle to cheer him on, he said. “I didn’t hear anyone say, you better not run against that Kirsten Gillibrand,” he said.

Again and again, during the interview, he returned to the subject of the economy, saying Ms. Gillibrand, an upstate lawmaker who was appointed by Mr. Paterson to fill the seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, has failed to aggressively focus on creating jobs. He called for a major reduction in the corporate tax rate and a payroll tax holiday to encourage hiring.

Zeroing in on a perception that Ms. Gillibrand too readily defers to Senate leaders, especially Senator Charles E. Schumer, he added: “We have a fundamental difference on independence. We have a difference on the level, the kind and the stature of advocacy New Yorkers deserve. And we have some honest differences on issues.”

He blasted her support for the proposed health care overhaul, which is expected to cost New York an extra $1 billion a year, and for opposing the taxpayer bailout of the financial industry.

“It was a mistake,” he said, noting that most Wall Street firms had already paid back the money. “How can you be against ensuring that the lifeblood of your city and of your state survives?”

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