Running for the Senate while black. It wasn't a problem. That is, until Terry Nelson dispatched Scott Howell to Tennessee. Howell's website features the slogan, "now they are senators." That may be true, but if Harold Ford, Jr. loses to his opponent Bob Corker, it will be through the well known technique that Howell perfected against Max Cleland. There was no other way to beat Harold Ford.
Elected in 1996, Ford has been re-elected four times by an average of 80% of the vote and enjoys a reputation as a consensus builder. In 1998, Ford was 28 years old when he cast his vote for the first federal balanced budget - the first time America's budget had been balanced since 1969.
If Ford would win this race, he would be the first black since Reconstruction to make it to the U.S. Senate from the south. His campaign is considered the best run of the 2006 election.
Harold Ford, Jr. is a smart, good looking, savvy politician with passion. Coming from Tennessee, a place that wouldn't even send their own native son, Al Gore, to the White House, Ford had his work cut out for him. Tennessee is a very conservative southern state. But Harold has the goods. He loves Jesus and is comfortable talking about it. Is pro-life. Wants a change of course on Iraq, but is strong on national defense and the "war on terror." When you turn over the back of his business cards what you get surprises many. The Ten Commandments stare back of you. Ford says it's a good reminder of right and wrong. That moral compass guides him every day. So he knew in a heart beat that what was coming at him was absolutely wrong. But it came at him 90 miles an hour anyway. All hell was breaking loose.
You may not know the next character in this story, but you have certainly seen his work or the outcome of it. Scott Howell was responsible for the commercial that helped take down war hero and three-limb amputee veteran Max Cleland. The ad morphed Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and then Senator Cleland together in the most disgraceful display of swiftboating since John McCain was attacked in 2000. Evidently, leaving three limbs on the battlefield wasn't good enough for Howell. He had to make sure that Cleland's honor was destroyed as well. Portraying Cleland as soft on national defense would seem a laugh. Unfortunately, it worked and Senator Cleland lost his seat. But remember Scott Howell's slogan: "now they are senators." He got the job done.
Scott Howell has been busy this season, as always. Also being the ad man for Senator George Allen, Terry Nelson hired him at some point to take care of Harold Ford, Jr. He and Nelson pulled out all the stops for this one. The ad Howell produced lies on every account about Harold Ford, Jr., but it doesn't stop there. Howell reaches into the deep, dark, dirty message of the south we are all trying to leave to history, resurrecting the racial prejudice one more time to get his client elected. The ad is complete with a naked blonde winking into the camera as she asks Harold to "call me." The ad is pure race baiting, bringing to mind the image of an old stereotype of a black man dating a blonde woman. But you already know that by now. The ad has made it from coast to coast, cheapening everything about Ford and causing a riot of criticism, until the ad had to be pulled. However, it didn't happen voluntarily. They were shamed into it. Unfortunately, it had done it's dirty work and tied the race. Scott Howell took a Super Bowl party thrown by Playboy magazine, which was attended by over 4,000 people (some estimates even higher), including conservatives, and turned it into the insinuation of some private, smutty affair that no decent Tennessean supposedly would ever attend.
ACCURACY The mention of the Playboy party is related to reports that Mr. Ford went to a party given by Playboy magazine in Jacksonville, Fla., at the time of the 2005 Super Bowl. The National Republican Senatorial Committee sent a video clip to reporters on Tuesday that shows Mr. Ford saying he was at the party and did not think that he had to apologize. "I was there," he says. "I like football, and I like girls." But in a new interview with ABC News, Mr. Ford said he had never been to a "Playboy mansion party," apparently referring to the mansion in California.
There's quite a difference between a party thrown for thousands and thousands for the Super Bowl, and an intimate affair at the Playboy mansion. But Howell doesn't deal in facts. His turf is gutter politics; the dirtier the better. Just take a look at this latest article called "Character Assassin," by Max Blumenthal. The title says it all, but here's snippet.
Thanks to Howell, a campaign that could determine control of the Senate for the next two years will now pivot on white sexual fears of an African-American male. Howell is comfortable conceding that his ads are emotionally manipulative and short on facts. As for stoking racial bigotry to advance his clients' political ambitions, he could care less. As he explained to me during the 2005 Virginia governor's race, all's fair in war.
"I'm not nearly as callous as they try to make me," Howell said. "You know how it is: They hate me because we beat 'em. I guess you could say it's a badge of honor in my business."
Character Assassin, by Max Blumenthal
Howell doesn't get it. We don't hate him. We abhor what he does, which is nothing less than smear and slander in order to swiftboat good people. This isn't personal. It's stricly moral and what he does to candidates like Max Cleland and Harold Ford, Jr. is just plain wrong.
Harold Ford, Jr. is single. He likes football and he likes girls. Sounds like a red-blooded American male to me.
Unfortunately, Ford is also talented, ambitious and was running such a brilliant campaign that it looked like he just might win. Scott Howell and Terry Nelson couldn't have that, so down and dirty they went, complete with a scantily clad blonde portrayed naked to stir the old racial stereotype in order to scare the voters away from Ford, because he's, hint-hint-wink-wink, really some immoral man. Howell and Nelson ripped the American race scab off in a southern state that has deep scars to send a message, a warning perhaps to others.
But Harold Ford, Jr. fights on and it's not over yet.
One piece of good news is that Nelson was forced to walk away from a very lucrative client because of public pressure generated by a backlash over the Ford ad. The NAACP condemned the ad, and Jesse Jackson got busy, too.
The ad had no direct connection with Wal-Mart, but the reaction by civil rights activist Jesse Jackson and other critics -- and the company's reaction -- underscored the extent to which even the world's largest retailer can feel compelled to respond to political pressure.
Nelson is in charge of an independent political unit, financed by the Republican National Committee, that recently aired the commercial in a tight Senate race between Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. and Republican Bob Corker, the former mayor of Chattanooga.
One down. Many, many more to go. Now if we could just get Ford's opponent Bob Corker to pull the radio ad that has jungle drums playing whenever Ford's name is mentioned. Swiftboating has reached a new low this election, though none of us thought that was possible.
But they're not finished. The original swiftboating money man Robert J. Perry has ponied up cash against Ford, too.
On October 19, the Scripps Howard News Service reported that in the hotly contested Senate race in Tennessee between Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Jr. and Republican Bob Corker, the Free Enterprise Fund "began airing ads in Middle and West Tennessee on Tuesday [October 17] that attack Democrat Harold Ford Jr. for 'living it up on campaign cash but pushing higher taxes for Tennessee families.'"
Scott Howell and Terry Nelson are getting lots of help.
But remember the name Scott Howell. He works for George Allen, but he's got lots of other clients. If Ford loses, just like Max Cleland, we will all have Scott Howell and Terry Nelson to thank. If you have the time, you might want to thank Howell for his efforts, so far.
"Now they are senators" may be Howell's slogan, but there is nothing senatorial about the people he uses swiftboating to elect.