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Ford campaign hits Middle Tennessee
Jan 26, 2006 12:00 am
January 25, 2006
Rep. Harold Ford Jr. — the leading Democrat in the race to succeed the retiring Sen. Bill Frist — made a campaign swing through Lebanon on Tuesday, looking to garner support from a conservative part of the state that is only trending further to the right.
"One of my friends told me there were a bunch of Republicans here," Ford told the Lebanon Rotary Club with members responding with laughter. "If you want to think of me as a Republican I'll do that to, but I'd appreciate over the next several months if you at least listen to me and give me a chance to tell you why I think I can represent you well in the United States Senate."
While the comment was lighthearted, it did highlight what may be the the Memphis Democrat's biggest obstacle to picking up votes in Wilson County and the suburban counties surrounding Nashville: the "D" after his name.
But Ford does have the advantage of being the prohibitive favorite in a narrow Democratic field. Meanwhile, the three Republican candidates — Ed Bryant, Bob Corker and Van Hilleary — have already begun what is shaping up to be a contested and expensive primary campaign.
Ford used his time before the Rotary Club to brandish his national security credentials, calling attention to his belief that progress is being made in Iraq and Afghanistan while insisting the president and Republican leadership need to be more forthcoming about the road ahead.
"The president talks incessantly about exporting this democracy (to Iraq), and I believe the president is right, that it will have a transforming effect on that region of the world and even make us safer here," Ford said. "But we have to be candid about a few things. This is not an easy process. It's a lengthy process in many ways, and it's going to take time for us to achieve the kind of goals we want in Iraq."
In a moderate turn, the fifth-term congressman also took aim at Republicans and Democrats alike for turning to heated rhetoric, which he said "does not serve any constructive purpose."
"Both sides have to recognize that we've been right about a lot of this, and we've been wrong about a lot of it," he said. "And they way to fix it is not to yell louder when you're wrong, or even yell louder when you're right, but to sit and figure out how we work out these differences and ensure that the foot we're putting forward on the ground there works."
Ford received a warm reception from the business-oriented civic association, but did not field any questions about Iraq or Afghanistan.
He said afterward, though, voters he has spoken with throughout the state still have concerns about Iraq and are expressing "an uneasiness about the length of time we've been there and, more importantly, the fact that it's hard to determine when it's going to end."
In addition to his Rotary visit, Ford met with administrators at University Medical Center, toured the Hartmann Luggage plant and spoke with the fourth-graders at Coles Ferry Elementary.
While at UMC, Ford received a tour of the hospital — including its new $3.4 million emergency wing — and held an open discussion with senior staff to hear concerns and ideas about a number of issues.
On the top of the list were problems associated with the Medicare prescription drug bill, including recent confusion about the various plans and difficulties many seniors are having getting necessary prescriptions filled.
"Those who have spent time in their districts and those who are traveling there would have to be hearing the same thing I am from seniors and from those delivering health care, wherever that may be, that this is a bit of a problem," said Ford, who voted against the bill in 2003.
UMC Chief Executive Officer Mark Crawford suggested a streamlining process which would be initiated by the drug companies themselves.
The numerous plans are "very medication specific," Crawford said. "If you're already on a plethora of medications and you tell maybe a computer system or an adviser the list of meds that you're on, it would pop out saying, 'These are the best plans for you, give or take a few dollars in each plan.' That would be a great tool for seniors to access."
Ford said he was receptive to the suggestion, noting many pharmacists he has spoken with have already asked for a similar remedy.
And he said he believes pharmaceutical companies could indeed give seniors "a pretty decent idea of what would be the best plan out there."
Ford also fielded questions about recent drops in physician reimbursement rates, difficulties interpreting the Family Medical Leave Act and a looming shortage of nurses. He even took a question from UMC Business and Marketing Director Anna-Lee Cockrill about cracking down on violent television content.
"I was very impressed with him," Cockrill said. "He's very focused, knowledgeable and proves to me that he is sincere in his passion to make a positive difference."
Kathy Klein, UMC's chief nursing officer, and the administrator who suggested ways to combat a projected shortage of one million nurses by 2010, described her reaction to Ford as "optimistically hopeful."
"He's a good listener. But with some of the skepticism in politics right now, we'll just have to wait and see," Klien said. "Change is hard."
Crawford echoed the same sentiment.
"It's always great to have one of your own in the legislature, and the Senate obviously," Crawford said, referring to Frist, who is a physician and who made his fortune in the for-profit hospital business.
Still, Crawford said he saw and heard good things from the Memphis Democrat.
"Congressman Ford and I have gotten relatively close over the years," he said. "He's got a lot of energy and a lot of great ideas about how we can change America."
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.