Harold Ford Jr. wants to represent New York State in the U.S. Senate. He's only lived here a short time, having run unsuccessfully for Senator from Tennessee in 2006, but he's convinced himself that he can do better than Kirstin Gillibrand, the upstater appointed by the governor to replace Senator Clinton upon her appointment to the State Department. Gillibrand has been a passively divisive figure, annoying some because she lacked the celebrity of Caroline Kennedy, and others because she's an upstater with the coloration of a Blue Dog. The White House, however, has been protective toward her, warning away Democrats who've pondered primarying her. Ford has cried foul because the White House, along with Majority Leader Reid, has been trying to deal with him similarly. There seems to be some upstate-downstate tension involved, as Ford supposedly has the support of Mayor Bloomberg of New York City, but as far as ideology goes there's not much difference. Ford has had to clarify his views on abortion and same-sex marriage, for instance, in order to make himself more palatable to liberals.
From a partisan perspective, the primary system exists to let the rank and file choose their candidates. It was advocated by historical progressives like Charles Evans Hughes (see below) in order to take the selection of candidates out of the hands of state and local bosses. It goes against the democratic spirit of primaries for any authority, especially from outside the state, to tell anyone, even a "carpetbagger," not to challenge an incumbent for the party nomination. It's especially inappropriate for the President, if it has come to that, to stick his nose into a state election process. The President is not the leader of his party; that's an actual job held by somebody else. He is not the boss of all Democrats, no matter how he thinks the campaign in New York will impact him in his efforts to get his agenda through the national legislature.
At the same time, I don't feel sorry for Ford. If he gets grief from Democrats in and out of state, that's the price he pays for playing the Bipolarchy game. If he's supposedly on good terms with Bloomberg, why doesn't he go independent? For the usual reason, obviously; the major parties are shortcuts to power. But the shortcut exacts a toll, and it only makes sense for New York Democrats to question whether Ford can represent them when it's an open question whether he can represent the state itself. In the past, "carpetbaggers" from Robert Kennedy to Hillary Clinton have answered that question to voters' satisfaction, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth asking anymore. But while I have little sympathy for Ford's plight, the way he's being treated should be an object lesson to those who believe that party nominations are open to all aspirants equally. The menacing noises some people are making at Andrew Cuomo for possibly challenging Gov. Paterson in a primary should be further proof. In any event, if a politician thinks that he's the best if not only hope for his constituents, -- why run otherwise? -- then why should he take a party's veto in a primary for an answer instead of making his stand in November, on his own merits rather than the party's? Here's the reason: if a politician seeks an office, yet is unwilling to run as an independent, then he's running for the party's sake, not yours.