The notorious “Call Me” ad may—or may not—have cost former U.S. Representative Harold Ford Jr. C’92 election as the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction. But despite his narrow loss in Tennessee last fall, he emerged from the race as “a rock star, basically.” By Jordana Horn

Tracking down Harold Ford C’92 in the first months of 2007 is no mean feat. To get in touch with him requires running interference with multiple public-relations offices, to say nothing of a stubborn willingness to regularly redial numbers in at least three different states. But that only stands to reason. Having plunged into several new ventures since his narrow loss in Tennessee’s Senate race last fall, Ford himself is probably hard-pressed to know where he is on a given day. One thing is sure though: it’s not where he expected to be six months ago.

“God works in mysterious ways. I thought I’d be sitting on the floor of the United States Senate,” Ford says matter-of-factly in a telephone interview during a quick break between meetings. The day we speak is just his third day on the job in Merrill Lynch’s New York office as a vice chairman and senior policy adviser (he’ll split his time between the company’s offices there and in Nashville).

Ford spent the past decade as the Democratic representative from the Ninth District of Tennessee [“Profiles,” February 1997]. He passed up certain re-election to run against Republican Bob Corker for the Senate seat vacated by Bill Frist. After months of tumultuous campaigning, capped off by a controversial (and arguably racist) ad campaign against him by the national Republican party, Ford lost the race by a difference of three percentage points, with a margin of about 50,000 votes out of a bit more than 1.8 million cast.

Finding himself out of elected office for the first time in his adult life—he won his Congressional seat just months after graduating from the University of Michigan Law School in 1996—Ford has more than enough on his plate to keep him busy. There is his job at Merrill Lynch, in which he will be an advisor to senior management on domestic policy, a member of the firm’s public policy and social responsibility management committee, and will work with business development in institutional and retail markets. He will also serve as a visiting professor of public policy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, teaching a course on American political leadership.

And he hasn’t abandoned politics entirely. In January he was appointed the new chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). In his first policy address as DLC head, Ford challenged his party to renew its commitment to innovative problem-solving, saying that the DLC would promote an “Ideas Primary,” through a series of forums across the nation, and a new website, IdeasPrimary.com, meant to “foster a real debate on issues rather than process, money, or horse-race considerations.” Still, for many political observers, Ford’s present is incidental, a forced pause between his past accomplishments—which considerably outstrip those of your average 36-year-old—and the heady promise of his political future. >>

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