WASHINGTON—Harold Ford Jr. lost one of the most closely watched elections in the country last November, his bid in Tennessee to become the first black ever popularly elected to the Senate from the South.
Yet Ford isn't finished with politics, and he said over breakfast recently that he'd run again for public office.
"I know I'm going to do it again someday," he said. "In my state, it takes a few times to run, sometimes one, two times ... before you win. My governor, who is arguably the most popular politician in the state, ran (once) before he won the election."
Still just 36 years old, Ford has plenty of time and potential opportunities.
The first possibility is to challenge Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican who's up for re-election in 2008. The second is the governor's office in 2010. Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat just re-elected, will be finishing his second term and can't run again due to the state's term limit.
The third is to take on Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican who defeated Ford in November. That seat won't come up again until 2012.
Ford would run again as a centrist, a position he'll try to bolster from his new post as the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, a position that Bill Clinton used as a springboard to national prominence in the early 1990s.
As a five-term member of the House of Representatives, Ford had a slightly left-of-center record but also voted against gay marriage, against "partial-birth" abortion and for protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits.
Of course, he'd also run again as a black man.
He doesn't think that his race cost him the election in a state where whites cast 85 percent of the votes and only 17 percent of the population is black. Despite fears that white voters would tell pollsters they'd support him only to switch to the white candidate in the voting booth, Ford drew 40 percent of the white vote—about 623,000 votes—and came within 50,000 votes of winning the election.
"More white guys have lost in Tennessee than black guys," he said.
Asked whether he'd learned anything about race during the campaign, he said curtly: "I knew I was black before I started the race."
And he might well run again as a bachelor.
After Ford ran an ad talking abut his religious faith, Republicans hammered him as a hypocrite because he'd attended a Super Bowl party hosted by Playboy magazine and attended by some Playboy models.
His opponents never explained why they thought that was a problem. Ford, after all, is a bachelor. Hundreds of people attended the party. The women had their clothes—however skimpy—on. Still, a lot of Democrats thought the ads took a toll.
Ford chafed at the memory of the ads and the strong suspicion that they were intended to stir resentment of a black man dating white women. Go ask the Republicans about the effect of race on the campaign, he suggested.
But he brushed aside any thought that he did anything wrong—as he should.
"I can do that now," he said as he kissed a few women on the cheek on his way into breakfast.
Asked whether he planned to attend this week's Super Bowl festivities in Miami, he said he'd miss the game but would be in South Florida earlier in the week because his father lived there. "I love Jesus. I love girls. I absolutely love football."
(Steven Thomma is chief political correspondent for the McClatchy Washington bureau. Write to him at: McClatchy Newspapers, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20005-3994, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)