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August 24, 2006

US Senate candidate visits Chattanooga business

CHATTANOOGA—Today a large downtown employer held the first of two planned "meet and greet" events by the major candidates running for the United States Senate in Tennessee. The media were not invited to cover the visit, as it was intended as a service to employees. A non-credentialed member of the citizen media known as "bloggers" was there, however, and filed this report:

Just over thirty minutes past the scheduled time, United States Representative Harold Ford, Jr. walked into the employee dining area. His engaging smile and firm handshake at the ready, Congressman Ford set about on an intense campaign with the firm's employees.

"Hey man," he said to me as he made his way through the small knot of anxious admirers and curious types in the breezeway. "I'm Congressman Harold Ford. What's your name?" "Joe Lance," I said, "it's good to see you." "Nice to meet you, Joe Lance," came his affable reply as we shook hands. For that period of time, his gaze never broke from meeting mine square in the eye. A split second later, he was asking the name of the PR liaison next to me, and I swear he had a subtle shift in his voice and a different look in his eye as he repeated her name. Ford, a polished politician if there ever was one, has a highly effective personalized greeting style: for the five seconds you're talking to him, you feel like you are his number one priority. It's classic charisma.

Honestly, I expected more people there. Did folks literally not get the memo? Even if you plan to vote for Corker, this is an unusual event; and if you're undecided, it's the perfect opportunity to learn more. A smattering or two of applause rang out as people circled the candidate and he got into answering some of their questions. I needed to start writing, so chose a table—one that ended up being too far away from the interaction. I have a knack.

After I gave up on "live"-blogging (I wasn't connected, just trying to capture thoughts in realtime), I moved around in a sort of orbit with Ford as he worked the room. I kept a polite distance, since I had already met him, and since I suspected that others there hadn't been following this election since late 2004 as I have—and since I had already given my contact info to one of his minions, and didn't need to be bothered by the rest of them. They were working hard.

Ford, though, has to be given full credit for being just as dogged as I've seen Bob Corker be, in terms of "working it" for the vote. His handlers were past the suggestion point in terms of it being time to leave, and young Harold was still extending his handshake to doughy corporate midshipmen.

Just before he relented and made his way toward the exit, I heard him exclaim to a smartly dressed businesswoman with striking red locks, "I'm glad to be here; and I really like your hair!" This is one tuned-in fellow.

[Photos by Richard White. Used with permission.]

For another perspective on the visit, see gid's account.

UPDATE: Kleinheider seems to think I was ga-ga. Let me be clear: while there was definitely swooning to be observed all around, I simply reported on what Rep. Ford was projecting. A super-smooth exterior like that is something to behold, but do not make the mistake of assuming that it would affect my vote in any way.

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US Senate Elections | By joe lance | 09:26 PM