Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New York: Right Flank

About a year ago, when Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a senator from New York, the main criticism from that state's Democrats was that Gillibrand was too conservative. So it's surprising that the man who might become her main primary opponent is saying that she's too far to the left.

Harold Ford, Jr., 39, represented a Tennessee district in the U.S. House from 1997 to 2007. After he lost a U.S. Senate election in Tennessee in 2006, he moved to New York City to take a Wall Street job. Now, he wants to run for the Senate again, this time from his new home state.

According to Michael Barbaro's account in The New York Times, Ford is adjusting the socially-conservative positions he took on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage during his Tennessee campaign. Another Tennessee Democrat, Al Gore, was criticized by those who believed he had made similar adjustments once he started looking for votes in other states.

But, on some issues at least, Ford is positioning himself to the right of Gillibrand. He wants to cut corporate tax rates, and he has criticized Gillibrand for supporting the health care bill, and opposing bailouts to the financial sector.

One issue that probably need not concern Ford is the carpetbagger question.

In Britain, it's routine for politicians to choose the constituency in which they want to run for a House of Commons seat, regardless of their past affiliation with that area. But that is not generally considered to acceptable behavior in the U.S.

However, for some reason, this particular Senate seat has been an exception. Robert Kennedy had spent much of his childhood, plus a brief period as a young lawyer, in New York, but Massachusetts had been his official residence before he moved to New York in 1964 to launch his successful candidacy for the Senate seat now held by Gillibrand. 36 years later, Clinton, whose previous ties had been to Illinois and Arkansas, also won that Senate seat, shortly after establishing residence in New York. Compared to them, Ford is a long-time resident.

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