Vanderbilt experts available to comment on Tennessee‘s closely watched Senate race

No slowdown on negative ads, predicts political scientist John Geer: Ads in the most hotly contested races across the nation will continue to be negative during the campaigns‘ remaining days, says Geer, author of In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns. Although most observers are bothered by this pattern of negative ads, Geer believes they often are more substantive and raise important issues. One example is a new ad by the RNC with the sound of a ticking bomb. It features al-Qaeda leaders with captions of threatening statements. It is a scary ad, but America‘s security is an important issue to the voters. Positive spots with candidates talking about the general need for a strong defense against terrorists are vague and not as likely to generate discussion about the issue as the one the RNC is running. There are many under-appreciated aspects of negative advertising, but one that includes a woman dressed like a Playboy bunny asking Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. to call her crosses the line and might backfire on the GOP. Geer, a professor of political science, can be reached at

Mid-term elections could shake up presidential candidate line-up in 2008, says political scientist Bruce Oppenheimer: If the Democrats take control of the Senate, it would not be good news for anyone closely tied to the Bush administration, such as outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. On the other hand, candidates who are perceived as Washington outsiders, such as Sen. John McCain, might see their positions strengthened for a 2008 bid. In addition, if Harold Ford Jr. becomes the first African-American elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction, he will be more powerful than the average freshman senator. Ford could share a national leadership role with Sen. Barack Obama for African-Americans. Oppenheimer, who teaches and writes about Congress and legislative policy, is the co-author of Sizing Up the Senate: The Unequal Consequences of Equal Representation. He can be reached at

Modern history of mid-term elections held during war offers little comfort to the GOP, according to presidential historian Thomas Alan Schwartz: History suggests that the Republican success in 2002 was a distinct aberration, unlikely to be repeated. Even during the popularly supported World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt‘s Democrats suffered significant losses to the Republicans in 1942. During the Cold War‘s less popular limited conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, Presidents Truman, Johnson and Nixon and their parties all experienced substantial losses in the mid-term elections of 1950, 1966 and 1970.

Although local factors were at work in each case, contemporary observers attributed the defeats to the American voter‘s frustrations with the administration‘s conduct of the war. Although neither lost control of the Congress, Truman and Johnson both saw their ability to enact additional legislation hampered significantly by the losses, and both left office two years later. The GOP‘s losses under Nixon accelerated the president‘s determination to withdraw from Vietnam before the 1972 election. Schwartz, a professor of history and expert on U.S. foreign policy, is the author of Lyndon Johnson and Europe: In the Shadow of Vietnam. He can be reached at

Harold Ford Jr. provides striking contrast to most recent black Southerner to run for Senate, says political historian Devin Fergus. Harvey Gantt ran twice unsuccessfully against North Carolina incumbent Jessie Helms during the 1990s. The first African-American to integrate Clemson University reflected a more liberal generation of black Democratic leadership in the South than Ford. Gantt lived the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and was an ardent supporter of the ACLU. Ford‘s issues include pro-family values and strong defense. While Gantt was criticized for not being more aggressive in his response to attacks by Helms, Ford has made it clear he will not let his opponent paint him as a liberal. Fergus describes Gantt as an archetypal progressive Democratic, while Ford is a new Southern Democrat with a fundamentally different vision of Southern politics. Fergus specializes in African-American and modern political history, including the relationship between liberalism and black nationalism in America. He can be reached at

The race for Tennessee‘s Senate seat could come down to whether remaining undecided voters are most swayed by Harold Ford‘s charisma or Bob Corker‘s personal attacks on Ford, says political scientist Christian Grose. Research shows that voters on the political left or right often cast their ballot for the candidate that matches their ideological beliefs, but independent voters put more emphasis on the personal characteristics of the candidate. Grose believes that Ford‘s charisma could give him the edge with some independents; however, Corker could appeal to voters who want a more traditional “family man” representing them. Grose believes that the RNC is continuing to run controversial negative ads about Ford for that very reason. Grose, an assistant professor of political science who teaches and writes about Congress, Southern politics and campaigns, can be reached at

View a photo gallery of the Oct. 28 candidates‘ forum at Vanderbilt University.

Media contact: Ann Marie Deer Owens, 615-322-NEWS

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