"The action I am taking is no more than a radical measure to hasten the explosion of truth and justice. I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me before a court of law and let the enquiry take place in broad daylight!" - Emile Zola, J'accuse! (1898) -

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Tennessee Primary Gets Nasty

Just A Preview Of What We Are Going To See Nationwide.

"To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Required"

Looking for the nastiest Democratic primary in the country this cycle? The contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may have been heated, but it was nothing compared to the battle underway right now in Memphis.

Voters in Tennessee's 9th district go to the polls today to determine whether freshman Rep. Steve Cohen or attorney Nikki Tinker will be the Democratic nominee in the fall. Cohen, who is Jewish, defeated the African-American Tinker in 2006 in the majority-black district.

And the rematch has been heavily focused on issues of race, gender and even religion.

Tinker's last two TV ads have been particularly rough. In a spot released earlier this week, a black local former county commissioner criticizes Cohen for not supporting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan. The ad includes images of a hooded Klan leader and a burning cross.

And Tinker's most recent ad accuses Cohen of voting against allowing children to pray in schools -- a charge his campaign denies -- even "while he's in OUR churches slapping hands and tapping his feet." Is the "OUR churches" line a reference to Cohen being Jewish? It's not exactly clear, nor is it clear whether Tinker's late attacks will do her campaign any good.

"I would be surprised to see Nikki Tinker win," said David Wasserman, the House editor for the Cook Political Report. "The final ads of this race seem more like a Hail Mary than a long, well-thought out plan of attack."

Wasserman added that "usually ads as immediately acerbic as these do not play well," but that Tinker faces a dilemma: She can't really campaign on the need for "change," because Cohen's only been in Congress for two years.

The contest has divided Democrats in both Washington and Memphis. Tinker has been supported by a handful of black lawmakers and received a check from the Congressional Black Caucus political action committee. She also got the endorsement of EMILY's List, which prompted Cohen to tout his own longtime support of abortion rights and accuse the group of making its pick based on race and gender rather than legislative record.

And while Cohen might be feeling some pressure -- he allegedly shoved a cameraman Wednesday -- he has received some significant support lately that may help, including a $5,000 check this week from the liberal group Moveon.org's PAC. He has also gotten endorsements from some prominent black House members, including House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), who gave his blessing for Cohen's resolution apologizing for slavery and segregation to reach the House floor last week. Will that accomplishment, and Cohen's overall record, allow him to remain the only current white lawmaker to represent a majority-black district? We'll know by Thursday night.