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Harold Ford, Step Out of Senator Gillibrand's Way

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The political controversy of the week is whether former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford will try to stage a contest to battle Kirsten Gillibrand for her seat in the U.S. Senate.

You may recall there was a little uproar over her appointment to fill Hillary Clinton's remaining Senate term when Hillary headed for the State Department. The presumed successor was initially Caroline Kennedy. For reasons that never really came to light, she took her name out of the running and Gillibrand, who was a New York Congresswoman at the time, got the nod.

Many Democrats welcomed her and found the choice a strategic one -- she's liberal on social issues, but was more center of the road on things like immigration and more to the right on gun control.

So as reports are now circulating that Ford, who is a muckety-muck at Merrill Lynch and head of the Democratic Leadership Council, is going to challenge Gillibrand, I feel the political hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

It turns out that a handful of New York City power brokers are dissatisfied with Gillibrand and are willing to put their money on the line to bankroll Ford. Why? Well, it's not like any of them are really talking about it, but some of the pieces to put together are these:

1. Steve Rattner is a pal and adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Gillibrand, who was in the House of Representatives at the time, voted against the Wall Street bailout. Ford works on Wall Street. This one isn't rocket science. At the time of the vote, Gillibrand was quoted as saying:

Gillibrand said it is "concerning" to allow Treasury Secretary and former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson to have unrestricted control over $700 billion.

"What's to stop this investment bank that he's just hired from giving special deals to the employer that's going to employ him after he's done, or to his previous employer, or to someone whom he's friends with?" she said. "If you don't have any oversight and accountability, well then there's an enormous opportunity for fraud and waste of taxpayer dollars."

2. Michael Bloomberg's candidate for Clinton's vacated Senate seat was Caroline Kennedy, not Gillibrand. Plus, he has been openly unhappy about Gillibrand's position on gun control and has been vocal about his disagreement with her support of health care reform in terms of the potential financial impact it will have on New York City.

3. HBO executive Richard Plepler and wife Maureen White, finance chair of the DNC, are big political donors themselves who backed Ford's failed Senate bid in Tennessee. Can we say 'kingmaker?'

So should we care? Is any Democrat in a storm okay in the Senate these days, especially on the heels of Democratic Senators Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan announcing their retirements?

Not for this progressive mama. While Gillibrand was a member of the Blue Dog conservatives in the House, she is an advocate and supporter of reproductive rights. Ford? Not so much. There are reports that he was pro-choice at one time, but more recently has described himself as a pro-life Democrat. The Republicans are just waiting for more Democrats to leave their seats. I don't want to imagine the field day the GOP will have if Ford tries to horn in and make it an open race, rather than one against an incumbent.

Gillibrand, a mother of two young children, also has recently been quite vocal in her support and activism on food safety and toxins. I'm not sure where Ford stands on that, but historically women have led the call for a larger government role in food safety when it comes to our children. And really, when it comes right down to it, no attention is going to be paid to women's issues and how legislation impacts women and children until we have -- and keep -- more women in elected office.

I'm not saying Gillibrand is a perfect candidate in my world. But given the dearth of women in the Senate (18 out of 100 is not so fine), and in light of the fact that Ford's background and involvement of certain supporters suggest he'll be a bigger fan of Wall Street guys, who are still getting fat bonuses even after what they did to our economy, rather than those of us trying to make ends meet, we need to be paying attention to this race, even when if we don't live in New York.

Harold, if I were you, I'd think about keeping your day job and that fun little gig on Morning Joe.

Joanne Bamberger is the founder and editor of the political blog, PunditMom. A writer and political/new media analyst, Joanne also writes at MOMocrats and MomsRising. Her book on increasing political involvement of mothers will be published in the fall (Bright Sky Press).