Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Things Getting Ugly in TN-09 Primary

Thursday brings with it an extremely interesting Democratic House primary in Tennessee's 9th district. A little history is in order to understand the dynamics at play in the contest. The 9th, which is made up solely of the city of Memphis, is 60% African American, and from 1972-2007 was represented by a member of the Ford family--most recently Harold Ford Jr. and prior to that his father, Harold Sr. When Ford the younger gave up the seat in 2006 to launch his unsuccessful Senate bid, the overwhelmingly Democratic district law a primary contest of monumental proportions. As is almost always the case in such lopsided districts, the primary winner became the de facto congressman.

The '06 primary had a roster of 14 African American candidates, plus one white candidate, State Senator Steve Cohen. As one would have predicted, the black vote was split, allowing Cohen to win with 31% of the vote (for a good rundown of the race, see here). The aftermath of the race revealed some dicey racial dynamics, both in the district, and in Washington. Cohen applied to become a member of the Congressional Black Caucus and was denied entrance. Despite his overwhelmingly liberal voting record--which went back through 24 years in the Tennessee State Senate--and a good working relationship with the black community--many in the 9th feel that Cohen is a "poor fit". He is one of only two white House members representing majority-black districts.

With the primary vote approaching, things have gotten increasingly nasty. Cohen's main opponent is Nikki Tinker, the runner up in the '06 primary. Her recent television commercial has been widely condemned by the Memphis media establishment (see coverage here, and the ad here). With primaries typically marred by low turnout, it will be interesting to see how things play out. I'll report the results and available data Friday.
**Update: A new Tinker ad on the air, with coverage here.
**Update: Track coverage of the race with the Memphis Commerical Appeal