Monday, March 1, 2010

Ford Decides Not to Run by Michael Barbaro - City Room Blog -

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Under intense pressure from Democratic Party officials, Harold E. Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman, has decided not to challenge Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand in the primary this fall, according to two people told of his plans.

He has told friends that, while he is convinced he could prevail against Ms. Gillibrand, he feared the winner of the primary would have little money and remain highly vulnerable to a well-financed Republican challenger at a time when the Democratic party controls the Senate by a slim majority.

“I’ve examined this race in every possible way, 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,” Mr. Ford wrote in an opinion article to be published in Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times

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 possibility of a run by the telegenic Mr. Ford, who has been working as a vice chairman of Merrill Lynch and a political commentator on NBC and MSNBC since moving to New York in 2006, had riveted New York’s political world, and touched off a furious behind-the-scenes effort to keep him out of the race over the last six weeks.

After Mr. Ford, 39, acknowledged his interest in the race in early January, Democratic leaders feared that a tough primary between him and Ms. Gillibrand would drain the party of crucial fund-raising dollars and potentially endanger what is considered a safe Democratic seat at a time when Republicans are seeking to mount challenges across the country.

White House officials signaled they did not want him to run, and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York met personally with Mr. Ford to argue against his candidacy.

At first, Mr. Ford seemed to be emboldened by the attempts to fight his entry into the campaign. He branded those who asked him to stay out as “bullying party bosses” and sought to portray himself as a political outsider taking on an out-of-touch establishment.

Despite Mr. Ford’s relative newness to the state — he moved here in 2006 and became an official resident only last year — dozens of influential Democratic party donors urged him to run, saying that they were underwhelmed with Ms. Gillibrand, a former upstate congresswoman who was appointed to the Senate by Gov. David A. Paterson last year after a raucous search to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr. Ford’s pollster, Douglas Schoen, was convinced that Mr. Ford had a strong chance of defeating Ms. Gillibrand, whose approval rating did not impress him, according to people who have spoken with him.

But the drumbeat of detractors grew louder after Democrats lost a longheld Senate seat in Massachusetts, and the party’s fortunes in New York State became clouded by the scandal engulfing Mr. Paterson, who is accused of intervening in a domestic-violence case involving a staff member.