Evangelicals Save Tennessee for the G.O.P.

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If there are any plum political posts left for the G.O.P. in a changing Congress, party leaders should reserve one for Bob Corker, so far the only Republican to take one of the highly contested races for control of the Senate, now hinging on Virginia.

Buoyed by rural Christian evangelicals, Corker outlasted five-term Congressman Harold Ford Jr. by 51% to 48% of the vote, ending for now Ford's bid to become the first African American from the South since Reconstruction to join the Senate.

"Despite all the excitement in this race," points out Vanderbilt political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer, "Ford never did take the lead in the polls."

Ford beat Corker soundly in urban precincts (63 to 37 points in Memphis, 60-39 in Nashville) but Corker swept virtually every rural county. The addition of a ban on gay marriage to the ballot, which passed overwhelmingly by 80%, in the end helped Corker, despite Ford's continued campaigning to the center, at one stop promising to be a "Jesus-loving, gun-supporting" Senator.

The race also featured a lot of star power on Ford's behalf, with stump visits by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. So great was Ford's appeal to younger, white professionals that Corker only won his home county, which comprises Chattanooga, where Corker was mayor, by less than 10 points. But Ford did not gain enough crossover votes from the fallout of Republican attack ads many (including Corker) condemned as offensive and racist.

Oppenheimer, however, thinks the election eve ads Corker put out attacking Ford's family — his father is a once-indicted former Congressman, his uncle awaiting a bribery trial from his state lawmaker past in Memphis — kept Ford on the defensive in the late stages. Corker also benefited from Ford's ill-advised attempt to disrupt a Corker press conference late in the race, adds Oppenheimer.

In the end, the same voters that denied Al Gore his home state in 2000 denied Ford a shot at history.