U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen celebrates with his co-campaign manager Randy Wade in front of supporters after winning the 9th District Democratic Primary. He is expected to win the general election in November.
By Zack McMillin, Cindy Wolff
Thursday, August 7, 2008
But Cohen's gut told him to run on his record. He said his heart told him to embrace the presidential rival of his longtime friends Bill and Hillary Clinton and his seasoned campaign manager crafted messages that focused on Cohen's lifelong love of and three-decades service to the city he grew up in and calls home.
And so it was on Thursday night that the people of the 9th Congressional District -- from every race and every corner of Memphis -- rewarded Cohen with a resounding victory in the Democratic Primary contest for the U.S. House of Representatives, no matter a flurry of late attack ads directed at him.
Cohen won 79 percent of the vote, greatly expanding his base of support from the 2006 Democratic Primary he had won with 31 percent of the vote on a very crowded ballot. Nikki Tinker polled only 19 percent (she got 25 percent in 2006).
"It says Memphis has come a long, long way and that people who were counting on racial voting to prevail are thinking of a Memphis that doesnt exist anymore," Cohen said. "The people of Memphis are more sophisticated voters that deal with issues and someone's record and not simply race."
Cohen, 59, is virtually assured of re-election, though his campaign does move to the November general election, with independent candidates Jake Ford, Dewey Clark and Mary Taylor Shelby Wright on the ballot. In 2006, Cohen easily defeated Ford, the brother of former 9th District representative Harold Ford Jr. and son of former representative Harold Ford Sr., drawing 60 percent of the vote to Ford's 18 percent.
With a crowd at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn looking as diverse as the voting coalition that backed him, Cohen spoke Thursday like he was preparing for his second term.
"Memphis, Tennessee has shown CNN and The New York Times and MSNBC and everyone else that we are united, we are moving forward and we are a bellwether for what is going to happen in America when Barack Obama is elected president," Cohen said.
For the 37-year-old Tinker, it was a crushing end to a very difficult day and an uneven campaign. When the early-voting results were released just after 8, there were 12 people at her campaign party at Morgan Freeman's downtown club, Ground Zero Blues Club.
Unfortunately for Tinker, a corporate lawyer who grew up in Alabama and went to college, graduate school and law school in that state, the Memphis blues theme fit. The band playing: The Davis Coen blues trio.
Earlier Thursday, Obama released a statement denouncing Tinker's ads, and that was followed by an even more damaging statement, this one from her former mentor and former 9th Congressional District representative, Harold Ford Jr.
Tinker drove up to her downtown party at 9:45, parked her car on the street and hugged supporters.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said when asked to respond to the statements denouncing her campaign's tactics.
She congratulated Cohen, his family and staff.
"I have my whole life ahead of me," Tinker said, adding that she's not sure if she will run for public office again.
Whatever vulnerability Cohen may have faced, being white and Jewish in a mostly Christian district that is 60 percent black, he was able to overcome with a relentless promotion of his record and accomplishments.
"I told people we would carry every demographic group, and we did," Cohen said. "Man and woman, black and white, Christian and Jew, young and old, folically challenged and hirsute.
We got them all."
On Wednesday, Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama and Democratic Leadership Council chairman Harold Ford Jr. both made Election Day condemnations of political advertisements aired by 9th Congressional District candidate Nikki Tinker, who worked for Ford when he represented the 9th District. The ads attacked the incumbent, Steve Cohen, and featured a Ku Klux Klan rally and children praying. Cohen is white and Jewish.
"These incendiary and personal attacks have no place in our politics, and will do nothing to help the good people of Tennessee. It's time to turn the page on a politics driven by negativity and division so that we can come together to lift up our communities and our country."
"Whenever race, religion or gender is invoked in a political contest, it generally means the candidate has run out of legitimate arguments for why he/she should be elected. Communities and nations are always made weaker when political figures try to divide us for political advantage. It is my strong hope that lessons will be learned."
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