Video: Battle for the Senate: Tennessee

By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 11/2/2006 8:34:38 PM ET 2006-11-03T01:34:38

The people of Tennessee have never shied away from a good fight — that's how it came to be the Volunteer State. But after the fight for the Senate between Harold Ford Jr. and Bob Corker, the voters here would have every right to demand peace and quiet.

"Harold Ford voted for taxpayer-funded abortions 10 times, and wants to give the abortion pill to our schoolchildren," says an ad paid for by the Republican National Committee.

"Bob Corker lives in a 30-room mansion, is worth $200 million and owns six SUVs!" proclaims a spot paid for by Harold Ford Jr.'s campaign.

It's not like these two candidates are poles apart. They're not. There's a physical difference (more on that later), there's a difference in party, but on policy it's pretty close. In this part of the country, Democrats run on faith and Republicans often run away from their own president.

"Politically, they are both considered pretty moderate," says Otis Sanford, the managing editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper. "Ford is a lot more moderate than people say he is. And so is Corker. They meet in the middle quite a bit on a lot of the issues. The state as a whole is a red state, but where you are standing right now, it's blue country."

Sanford says this race is dirty because it's so close.

The Republican in this race is a businessman: Bob Corker is a self-made millionaire who started out as a builder and contractor. He's a former mayor of Chattanooga. A former advocate of staying the course in Iraq, he has changed course. Iraq is by far the No. 1 issue in the Volunteer State.

"Like every Tennessean, I'm concerned about our men and women in uniform," says Corker, "and I see, almost at every stop, I see someone who has just returned from Iraq, is getting ready to go to Iraq. Always see people who have relatives there. And I want to see our men and women come home as soon as possible. But we need to fix our strategy."

Corker says he is the "real Tennessean" in this race, something he plays up when and wherever he can.

The Democrat is U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. He's 36, the baby of a huge political family. He first went to Washington with his congressman dad at age 9.

He has previously called President Bush his friend. He openly invokes Jesus Christ and often says he likes his politics down the middle.

"I'm a Christian man," says Ford. "I think the president means well. He and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, they all want what's best for the country."

Ford would be the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction but won't dwell on the issue, which he says is too obvious.

There have been times of apparent warmth between the two men. They were seen literally patting each other on the back after the last debate. That was right before an ugly ad war exploded.

And then one day, while Corker was holding a press conference, Ford walked up and uncorked an attack on him.

Ford accused Corker of playing up corruption in the extended Ford political family. It has gone downhill from there. For now, it's mud over issues. Hand-to-hand combat for votes. No crowd is too small, no name is too big. Tennessee could make history next Tuesday, having already made news, some say, for all the wrong reasons.

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