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ELECTION 2006: BATTLE FOR THE SENATE

Tough fight on both sides

`Tennessee just isn't ready'

Harold E. Ford Jr. concedes defeat in his Senate bid, dashing hopes of a history-making outcome.

November 08, 2006|Jenny Jarvie | Times Staff Writer

MEMPHIS, TENN. — For a moment, it seemed as if the King was back. Satellite news trucks snaked around the Peabody Hotel downtown while reporters from around the world fanned across the city, interviewing locals at strip malls, barbecue joints and churches.

It was all for a politician: Democratic Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., 36, who was locked in one of the most closely watched U.S. Senate races. A win over Republican Bob Corker, 54, a former mayor of Chattanooga, would mean Ford was the first black senator elected from the former Confederacy since Reconstruction.

"This is part of history," said Claudette Branch, 55, a former government worker who joined thousands of Ford supporters Tuesday in the Peabody's ballroom. "I'm anxious."

Branch had good reason. Before the night was over, Ford conceded defeat. Campaign officials and volunteers wiped away tears and consoled one another.

"Tennessee just isn't ready yet," said Melanie Middleton, a Ford volunteer.

Many Memphis voters had grown tired of election coverage. Rhonda Daniels, cook at Mr. B's Hot Wings & Things, cranked up soul tunes on the jukebox Tuesday afternoon to drown out the television campaign ads. "It's on all day," exclaimed Daniels, 54, who supported Ford.

The Senate race mobilized residents throughout the candidate's hometown. Frontyards in Memphis, which is 61% black, are festooned with campaign signs for Ford.

Some voters feared too much was being made of the vote's potential to make history.

"Everyone's looking at this as a historymaking thing," said Bryce Williams, 50, as he cast his vote for Ford at Cummings Street Baptist Church in south Memphis before his night shift manufacturing orthopedic parts. "I just think he's the right man for the job."

Charles Boyd, a 54-year-old technical support agent, took Tuesday off work to campaign for Ford. Boyd, who is black, had never campaigned before, but said he thought Ford was not just Senate material but also a "potential presidential candidate."

All day, in drizzling rain, clusters of Ford supporters stood outside schools and churches promoting their man. "Put Tennessee on the map!" yelled Betty Hall, 57, a retired inventory control clerk, as voters spilled into the New Nonconnah Missionary Baptist Church in the afternoon.

Ford is a "very polished young man," Hall said. "I like his mannerisms -- mild and meek, the type the Bible speaks of."

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jenny.jarvie@latimes.com

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