Former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. needs more than MSNBC viewers’ votes to beat Kirsten Gillibrand in New York Senate race

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
Font Size:

Former Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. may work for Merrill Lynch on Wall Street and be a MSNBC commentator, but that doesn’t mean Democrats in New York know him.

Steven Greenberg, pollster at Siena College in New York, said 74 percent of registered voters in New York state don’t know or have an opinion on Ford, according to a December poll — something that will certainly be a factor as the Tennessee politician explores a possible bid for the Senate seat held by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Ford, even though a Fox News contributor before moving to MSNBC, does not have the name recognition Hillary Clinton had when she ran for the same seat in 2000.

“You can do all the MSNBC and all the political TV you want, but it’s not going to get you known to rank-and-file members across the state,” Greenberg said.

The New York Times
reported that Ford plans to give 45 days to think about a potential race.

“I think its fair to say at this point that it’s not surprising most New York voters — most New York Democrats — don’t know a lot about Ford,” he said.

Yet, it’s not a problem limited exclusively to Ford. Even Gillibrand, appointed to the seat by Gov. David Patterson in 2009 and still relatively unknown, would have her work cut out for her.

“In order to become really known, you’ve got to run a full-fledged campaign,” Greenberg said.

But of those familiar with Ford, not all are enthusiastic about the potential bruising primary fight his challenge would bring.

Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg is reportedly open to the idea of supporting him, the White House will likely discourage Ford — as it did with Rep. Steve Israel (D-New York) — from jumping into the race.

“The only way the Republicans can win this seat is if the Democrats have a divisive primary fight that causes lasting damage to the winner,” one New York Democratic political operative said.

The moderate views of the DLC chairman also won’t necessarily mesh well with all the New York Democratic primary voters, who tend to be further left on issues, something that makes New York Democrats skeptical about whether Ford will enter the race.

“The way to beat Gillibrand in a primary is to run at her from the left but Ford’s record places him firmly to her right. It would require a Herculean effort and a lot of luck for him to emerge victorious. In a perverse way, Ford’s flirtation with running is good for Gillibrand since it makes her look moderate,” the operative said.

Ford did not respond to requests for comment.

If the MSNBC pundit decides against a bid — despite New York’s willingness in the past to elect outsiders — he’d join the ranks of other MSNBC personalities who flirted with, but ultimately didn’t run for office.

Last week, MSNBC talk show host Ed Shultz was mentioned as a plausible candidate to run for the North Dakota Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan. But he cooled those rumors down, simply answering “no” to Joe Scarborough’s inquiries on Morning Joe into whether he was running. Chris Matthews, last year, decided not to run for the Pennsylvania Senate seat occupied by Sen. Arlen Specter. Scarborough, a former Florida congressman, has reportedly also been approached to be a candidate again.

Jon Ward contributed to this report