While becoming a senator would obviously have been the candidate’s preference, the campaign’s outcome was, in the aggregate, a positive one, says Vanderbilt’s Geer. “Harold Ford lost the race, but he came out of it as a rock star, basically,” he says. “You usually don’t lose and end up advancing your career. He did.”

So, what next for Ford?

“He picked a tough state to be born in,” Brodnitz says. “I think he’s got a very bright future, and just has to see how things develop—who happens to be running in a particular race, what the political environment looks like—but he’s very young.

“And he’s one of the very rare people in the Democratic Party who, even in loss, really won the respect of people throughout the country,” he adds. “The reality, in Tennessee, is that most people have to run twice before they win.”

“When he walks into a room, he has a Clintonesque charisma—you just notice him,” Geer says. “He’s a very young man, and there’s a lot of possibilities for him. He had to be very disappointed with the election outcome, but he’ll be a force in national politics for quite a while.”

Even Luntz, whose clients have run more to red than blue, looks forward to seeing Ford back in politics. “I desperately want him back in the political process, as a leader in that political process,” Luntz says. “He is the very definition of a unifying force. He is the definition of a people person. He has all the attributes that we are so desperately looking for in politicians today, and just can’t seem to find. He’s a great human being, as well as a good leader.”

Luntz even has a few words of advice for the Democrat on managing his political ascent. “I’d like to see him as governor,” he says, but perhaps not so much with an eye towards the well-being of the good folks of Tennessee: “That would make him a viable presidential candidate in the not-too-distant future.”

For now, though, Ford has to take a step back. As the chair of the DLC, he is not even permitted to endorse any particular candidate in the impending presidential race—a race which he will obviously observe with great interest from his front-row seat.

“The role I hope to play, and will play, is to create forums and opportunities for Democratic candidates to lay out their visions and plans on a variety of subjects: children’s health care, tackling the seminal problem facing parents of how they afford college education, how America restores its standing in the world,” Ford says. “I hope the campaign doesn’t veer too much in the vein of personal attacks and personal destruction.”

There is no bitterness or recrimination over his own recent experience in that statement; rather, it seems to come out of his belief that there is work to be done, and his hope that someday he will be the one to roll up his sleeves to do it.

“While I was in Congress, the economy expanded and capital markets grew tremendously as more market participants in the world economy emerged and matured,” Ford says. “And then, obviously, 9/11 happened, and radically transformed every bit of policy, from domestic policies and civil liberties to our standing and stature in the world.

“The two biggest questions we face as a nation, going forward, in terms of solving huge challenges are: How serious are we, as a nation, in reducing our dependence on oil as an energy source? And how willing are we to engage the world, as we seek to mitigate poverty, mitigate the spread of AIDS, and mitigate the spread of disillusionment in countries around the world?”

These questions, for Ford, are clearly much more than rhetorical. But for the time being, he’s working on behalf of shareholders rather than constituents.

“I didn’t choose to be out now—I just wasn’t elected to the Senate. I have a great passion for public service, but I’m excited about the opportunity I have now,” he says. “I have every intention of running for public office again, and God willing and voters permitting, I hope at some point to be there.

“But it’s not for me to forecast,” Ford laughs. “For now, I’m just learning how to get to the eighth floor and switch elevators.”

Jordana Horn C’95 L’99 is a frequent contributor to the Gazette.

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Harold Ford's Next Move By Jordana Horn
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