Magazine article Newsweek

A GOP Balancing Act; Bob Corker's Strategy: Run Away from Bush, but Not So Far That He Loses the Conservative Base

Magazine article Newsweek

A GOP Balancing Act; Bob Corker's Strategy: Run Away from Bush, but Not So Far That He Loses the Conservative Base

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Wolffe

Bob Corker needed to add some flair to his flagging campaign. The GOP candidate should have been running a simple Senate race in conservative Tennessee. But he was trailing by several points last month, so the White House and party leaders stepped in. Their solution: a new campaign manager in the form of a rumpled, martini-drinking, cigar-chewing veteran of Tennessee politics. Back in 1978, Tom Ingram helped transform a lackluster candidate for governor--Lamar Alexander--by dressing him in a folksy red plaid shirt. And it was Ingram who put Fred Thompson in a red pickup truck in his 1994 Senate race, turning the Hollywood actor and lawyer into a good ole boy.

What could Ingram change about Corker, the starchy former mayor of Chattanooga? Everything but his clothes, apparently. Speaking to a group of sheriffs last week, Corker was buttoned up in a charcoal pin-striped suit. ("We need to change that," Ingram later grumbled in a Nashville bar.) Still, Ingram has helped turn the Corker campaign around with new ads and a new message--that Corker is a self-made businessman from Tennessee, while his opponent, Harold Ford Jr., has never held a real job outside Washington politics. Ingram dropped ads attacking Ford as a liberal, replacing them with references to the Ford family machine--and by extension, the African-American politics of Memphis. "I'm the candidate of change," Corker told NEWSWEEK over a bowl of chili in a Jackson diner. "My opponent certainly hasn't shown much independence. …

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