Harold Ford has already won. Even if he loses the TN Senate race by a small margin, he has accomplished something important in demonstrating that African American Democrats can be highly competitive in state-wide races in the south. The critical lesson for Dems is that there is a lot to be gained from putting more resources into developing Black candidates in the south.
There are a lot of good articles about the Ford phenomenon out there, and one of the best is Salon‘s “How Would Jesus Vote?” by Michael Scherer, illuminating Ford’s brilliance in mining the vote of religious conservatives in the state that has “the most white evangelicals in the nation.” Also read the Wall St. Journal‘s “Republicans’ Hold On the South Gets Test in Tennessee” by Corey Dade and Nikhil Deogun, which explains Ford’s success in terms of the Volunteer State’s demographic transformation. Here’s just one interesting graph from the WSJ piece:
By one demographic factor, Mr. Ford should be far behind in the polls. Tennessee has one of the lowest African-American populations in the South — about 16%. Logically, that should put African-American candidates at a disadvantage for statewide office because they can’t count on a massive bloc of votes to give them a head start in a statewide election. But political scientists say the reverse may be true: In states with smaller black populations, whites don’t feel as threatened and the state isn’t as polarized. For instance, African-Americans make up a very high percentage of Mississippi and Alabama — 36.5% and 26%, respectively — and black voters tend to vote Democrat while white voters go for Republicans. The “blacker” the state, the larger President Bush’s margin of victory in 2004.
For more on the purple south emergence, check out Chris Kromm’s “Future of Congress to Be Decided in the South?” in Facing South. On a related issue, Ian Urbina reports on concerns about Black turnout in today’s New York Times — an important but much overlooked topic in midterm coverage thus far.