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VOL. 122 | NO. 138 | Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ford Jr. Tries New Democratic Direction

Presidential candidates not falling in line

By Andy Meek

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Harold Ford Jr. -- Illustration By Philip Thompson

Bill Kristol, editor of the prominent right-wing political magazine The Weekly Standard, said during a panel discussion a few days ago on "Fox News Sunday" that Democrats may be in for a drubbing in 2008.

As proof, he pointed to the guest list for a political conference in Nashville this week. The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the centrist policy group often cited as helping propel Bill Clinton to success in the presidential election of 1992, is holding its annual meeting in the Tennessee capital beginning Saturday.

Packing the Gaylord Opryland Resort this weekend for the DLC gathering will be hundreds of state, local and national political figures. For months, advertisements and other pronouncements from DLC spokesmen also signaled that many - if not all - of the major 2008 Democratic presidential candidates would show up.

The whole truth

The truth, as Kristol noted on the Sunday talk show, is that none of them will be there.

With National Public Radio correspondent Juan Williams at his side, Kristol said: "Not a single one is going to the Democratic Leadership Council meeting. That's the organization that Clinton was head of in the early '90s - that was supposed to be the new, more moderate Democratic Party. The Democratic Party has gone left, and it will hurt them in 2008."

That reality comes as somewhat of a surprise, given the convention is the first one put together with a new, well-known Memphis face at the helm of the DLC - Harold Ford Jr., the charismatic former congressman who lost a closely watched U.S. Senate race last year to Bob Corker. It was Ford's star power coupled with his moderate political outlook that factored into his selection to chair the group.

Yet if the idea was to reposition the DLC as a major force in Democratic political circles, the stars don't appear to be aligning just yet for Ford. As Kristol noted, none of the left's current presidential contenders will be mingling with the guests at the opulent Nashville hotel during the conference.

A DLC statement about the event announced "the purpose of the national conversation is to foster fresh policy ideas and political perspectives among Democrats from every region of the country and every level of government."

One prominent non-candidate who will make an appearance is Clinton, whose wife Hillary is one of the current frontrunners for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

However, she won't be coming to Nashville, a campaign spokesman said. Neither will former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. And a spokesman for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama could not yet confirm his plans.

New direction?

Ford, who boasts one of the most well-known last names in Memphis politics, took over chairmanship of the DLC from former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack when he stepped down earlier this year. The new assignment partly answered the chorus from Ford supporters of "What next?" that followed his defeat last year.

The DLC is the major vehicle Ford has chosen by which to remain active in politics, but it's not the only one. The 37-year-old now works as a political analyst for FOX News and teaches a class on public policy at Vanderbilt University.

Ford has been relatively silent in the mainstream press about this weekend's convention, so it remains to be seen whether the lack of presidential prospects in attendance will be regarded as a setback in his effort to refashion the group.

The DLC, meanwhile, on Monday launched a new component to its Web site, www.dlc.org. That feature, found at www.ideasprimary.com, aims to be a running compendium of policy related news stories and comments from readers.

"In an era of instant communications, 24-hour news cycles, incessant polling and the permanent campaign, America needs a permanent ideas primary - a place where new ideas and innovative approaches for solving our country's ever changing challenges will be showcased and debated continuously," Ford and DLC founder Al From wrote in a letter posted on the DLC Web site this week about the new feature.

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