WHAT IS HAROLD FORD THINKING?…. It was just a little over three years ago when then-Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) ran for the Senate in his home state of Tennessee. Given the Volunteer state’s ideological leanings, he ran to the right — voting (twice) for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, describing himself as “pro-life,” opposing gun control, and denouncing “amnesty” for “illegals.”

He came up short, losing a competitive race. Ford maintained his Tennessee residency, though, and as recently as eight months ago, weighed a gubernatorial campaign in the state. When he decided against it, Ford vowed to “stay involved to advocate for ideas that will help Tennesseans.”

Ford then left for New York, where he’s now poised to run for the Senate, challenging Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in a Democratic primary. I’ve been trying to figure out what he’s thinking, but can’t quite figure it out.

He sat down for an interview with the New York Times yesterday, and his motivations aren’t any clearer.

In his first extensive interview since he began weighing a run for United States Senate from New York, Harold E. Ford Jr. distanced himself from his previous opposition to same-sex marriage, his description of himself as “pro-life” and his push to permit local police officers to enforce federal immigration law, and said he would be a fiercer advocate for New York than Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand. […]

In a clear swipe at Ms. Gillibrand, he said he would not be a lap dog for Democratic leaders in Washington, who have rushed to her defense since Mr. Ford expressed interest in the seat.

“If I am elected senator from New York, Harry Reid will not instruct me how to vote,” he said, referring to Mr. Reid’s efforts to keep him out of the campaign.

Except, that’s clearly the wrong message. When Reid leans on senators, it’s practically always to get them to support a progressive bill important to the Democratic Party. Ford, who was a conservative Dem from a conservative state, is basically saying he wants New York Democrats — generally, a pretty liberal bunch — to send him to the Senate where he’ll be deliberately unreliable when it comes to the party’s agenda.

The transcript of Ford’s NYT interview is online, and it’s a bit of a mess. He tried to take both sides of the abortion issue and the debate over health care reform. Ford is pro-gun, but only sort of, and not really. His big economic idea is a massive corporate tax cut. Seriously.

Ford moved to the Empire State in 2009 and still has a Tennessee driver’s license. Asked if he’s visited all five boroughs, Ford counted Staten Island because he “landed there in the helicopter.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I can appreciate ambition as much as the next guy, but Ford’s decision making when it comes to seeking office is, for lack of a better word, haphazard. He ran for Congress in 1996 because it was his Dad’s district. He planned a Senate campaign soon after, before thinking better of it. He planned a gubernatorial campaign soon after that, before thinking better of it. He challenged Nancy Pelosi for a House leadership post, before losing badly. He ran for the Senate in one state, lost, and now wants to run for the Senate in another state.

The NYT described this as possibly being “a little impetuous.” That’s a polite way of putting it.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.