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Ford puts the brakes on campaign

Herb Boyd | 4/12/2011, 5:25 p.m.

Citing the state's Democratic bosses as "nervous" about his possible senatorial bid, Harold Ford Jr. pulled the plug on his campaign, though he believes he could have beaten the incumbent, Kirsten Gillibrand.

Ford listed a number of reasons why his candidacy and victory would have benefited New Yorkers, noting, "I believe raising these issues over the last two months has forced Democrats and Republicans alike to do better. And I will continue holding their feet to the fire. But I will not do so as a candidate for senator from New York," he wrote in an op-ed column in Tuesday's New York Times.

"I've examined this race in every possible way," he continued, "and I keep returning to the same fundamental conclusion: If I run, the likely result would be a brutal and highly negative Democratic primary--a primary where the winner emerges weakened and the Republican strengthened. I refuse to do anything that would help Republicans win a Senate seat in New York and give the Senate majority to the Republicans."

The former Tennessee congressman, currently a vice chairman at Merrill-Lynch and television commentator, took up residence in the state two years ago and recently began assembling his campaign team to challenge Gillibrand, who was appointed by Gov. Paterson to fill the spot vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

On more than one occasion, Ford was told that he needed more time to get in touch with the state's political leaders, and particularly the voters, which to some extent he did.

"But as I traveled around New York," he observed, "I began to understand why the party bosses felt the need to use such heavy-handed tactics: They're nervous. New Yorkers are clamoring for change. Our political system--so bogged down in partisan fighting--is sapping the morale of New Yorkers and preventing government at every level from fulfilling its duty."

At some point, the realization that his campaign lacked both the funds and support of the party--as we go to press, Gillibrand had received practically all of the endorsements from the state's county leaders--left him with few options but to suspend the bid.

Even so, his pollster indicated that he had a good shot at defeating Gillibrand.

"I realize this announcement will surprise many people who assumed I was running. I reached this decision only in the last few days--as I considered what a primary campaign, even with the victory I saw as fully achievable, would have done to the Democratic Party," he wrote toward the close of his announcement.

"I am a Democrat. But I am an independent Democrat. I am not going to stop speaking out on behalf of policies that I think are right--regardless of ideology, party or political expediency. I plan to continue taking this message across our state and across our nation."