What It Takes To Win

Electing America's New Leadership Means Attracting A Diverse Group Of Voters Without Losing Their Black Base

For New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, the governor’s mansion is the ultimate political prize. And he’s using all the resources at his disposal to get there. Over the last few months, McCall, 66, has been a ubiquitous presence in New York, pressing the flesh, getting his message out, and telling voters why he’s “the leader New York needs.” With campaign staffers and reporters in tow, McCall can be found appearing before the New York City Partnership, a group of the nation’s most powerful business leaders; rubbing elbows with luminaries such as Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Bill Cosby, and Spike Lee at a fund-raiser in Harlem; or urging college students in upstate New York to become active in the political process.

Approximately 1,600 miles away in Texas, another campaign is moving full steam ahead. Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas, exchanges dialogue and shares laughs with members of the state’s conservative business establishment — a rare scenario for an African American Democrat running for U.S. Senate in “Bush Country.” Not only has Kirk, 48, successfully caught the attention of these power brokers, he’s inspired them to write big checks to help finance his campaign. The affable, well-connected politico is as comfortable among the business community as he is speaking in a Baptist church. Over the last year, his deft touch with such divergent constituencies has made him the front-runner in this hotly contested race.

U.S. Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.), who will easily win re-election to his congressional seat, has been just as busy as McCall and Kirk, sowing the seeds of his political future. On a humid August day, the 32-year-old politician holds court in New York City, spending the morning with financial executives from UBS Warburg and Citigroup, and addressing 200 young black professionals at a $250-a-plate fund-raiser at night. Although Ford’s discussions range from corporate responsibility to government support for small businesses, the buzz among many attendees is his impending run for the U.S. Senate in 2006. And Ford is not coy about his intentions. “In the House, every two years you’re running for re-election,” he says. “That’s the motivation for running for the Senate. It gives you the opportunity to take a long-term view of things. You have a vote in whether the president can declare war. You have a say in the nominations [for] cabinet positions. There are so many opportunities there to affect my state, my district, and my country. I’m trying to be a part of a new way of thinking on national priorities.”

That assertion represents the goal for all three men to perform on a larger political stage. In fact, this year McCall and Kirk — and Ford in 2006 — stand the best chance of becoming members of an exclusive club: the 150 men and women who exercise power in America’s statehouses and the halls of the U.S. Senate. Currently, there are no African American governors or U.S. senators.

Espousing a philosophic mix of political pragmatism, pro-business sensibility, and social progressivism — as well as

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