One TV ad in particular played a central role in the election. It was run by the Republican National Committee and ran in late October, just several weeks before Election Day. The ad depicts an attractive blonde white girl who is barely clothed and portrays that she met Ford at a Playboy party and tells him to give her a call. Obviously a smear ad, intended to show Ford as a playboy who did not live up to the morals portrayed by his faith beliefs and who could not effectively hold a Senate seat, the ad inflamed both Democrats and Republicans alike – but not against Ford.
Opponent Corker himself denounced the ad and asked the RNC to pull it from television. It was also viewed as having racist sentiment, portraying a white woman inviting a black candidate to call. Ford responded to the ad in his typically professional manner and stated that he had attended a Super Bowl party hosted by Playboy and since he liked both football and girls, wouldn’t apologize for either. While the ad may have hurt Ford’s reputation within a small percentage of the electorate, it really only played to those who would likely not vote for Ford in the first place – the right-wing conservatives of the Republican Party.
Neither Ford nor the Democratic National Committee ran adds of the same type against Corker, again emphasizing Fords higher degree of ethical behavior throughout the campaign. Ford instead ran ads promoting his own campaign ideals, including endorsing Tennessee Agriculture as a way to end foreign oil dependence. A lot of money was spent on the Tennessee Senate Campaign, with the Republican Party typically having both raised and spent more than the Democratic Party. Corker, who is independently wealthy, gave a great deal of money to his own campaign.
In fact, Corker spent so much money on himself in the final days of the campaign that Ford was able to ask individual donors for more money than they would generally be able to contribute. With several weeks to go before the election, Corker had raised $13 million and spent all but $1 million, but with less than one week to go, donated more than $2 million to his campaign. During the same period of time, Ford had raised nearly $10 million but had less than a half million on hand.
Not having the same personal wealth as Corker, Ford could not fund his own campaign as thoroughly as Corker and therefore should have more aggressively turned to outside donors, including major industries and Political Action Committees to raise sufficient funds to combat Corker. In the final days of the election, Ford was not nearly as visible as Corker, due to his drained campaign funds. Although the ads run were very professional, they were not as heavily funded or as widely promoted as Corker’s ads. President Bush attended two fundraising events for Corker, which helped to raise $2.
56 million dollars. In contrast, Ford was the recipient of one visit from former President Clinton at a fundraising dinner that raised only a little less than $1 million. Ford should have sought the help of more highly-regarded Democratic figures to host and/or attend fundraising events on his behalf so that he could have stayed on pace with Corker throughout the campaign. The disparity in fundraising may not have been the key reason that Ford lost the election by under fifty thousand votes to Corker, but it surely contributed.
After losing the election to Corker, Ford was held in just as high regard by the state of Tennessee and the constituents that had previously supported his four congressional runs as before the election began. That sentiment was largely due to the respect Ford has gained as an ethical politician and as someone who will refuse to engage in mudslinging, but also due to the fact that Ford so aptly represented his state in the House for so many years.
Due to his popularity, after the election, Ford is still front and center in the Tennessee political scene, while he serves out the last of his few months in the House. He is considering challenging incumbent Lamar Alexander for Tennessee’s other Senate seat in 2008 and is also playing with the idea of a talk show on a national news network. Having failed to pass the bar exam because of his involvement in the 1996 congressional race during the end of his law school time, Ford has also not ruled out returning to sit again for the bar and pursuing a career in law.