More and more, the contest between 9th District Democratic congressman Steve Cohen and his Republican opponent, George Flinn, has come to resemble one of those aerial dogfights in movies about World War I.
The two never quite engage directly but upon occasion encounter each other out in public, whereupon they roll and circle each other a bit, exchange bursts of invective, and then part, each returning to home base or to another political mission.
So it was on Thursday at Anointed Temple of Praise (“ATOP” in the shorthand lingo of both campaigns) on Riverdale Rd. —, one of the several early-voting sites that had been attracting droves of voters for the last two weeks until early voting formally ended at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Flinn had apparently already devoted several days of campaigning at the site, and the Cohen people maintain that they had heard stories of his violating state law by direct contact with voters within the 100-foot distance from the site prohibited by law.
So the congressman, along with members of his campaign staff, showed up at ATOP to see for themselves, meanwhile doing some campaigning of their own.
One Cohen supporter had either a cell phone or a digital camera handy and took some shots of Flinn in action. Both pics — one of Flinn alone, another of the GOP candidate in conversation with another individual ——apparently show Flinn within the 100-foot limit.
The Flinn camp does not dispute the issue of location. Kristi Stanley, a spokesperson for Flinn, acknowledged that the candidate may have been inside the line on two occasions Thursday — once to use the bathroom inside the church (“which is permitted,” Stanley said) and another time in an attempt to get in line and cast an early vote. On neither occasion did Flinn have any campaign buttons, stickers, or other paraphernalia on him, Stanley said, and the pictures do not seem to show any.
Stanley said a uniformed security guard accosted Flinn during his effort to get in line and vote (in what might be the situation in Pic #2, below) and ordered him to get back across the 100-foot line, whereupon the candidate attempted to protest that he was there only to cast his ballot but eventually gave up the effort when the security guard appeared not to believe him.
Cohen’s account, one which he said he passed on to George Monger, a Shelby County Election Commissioner, is different. The congressman said he had heard from several sources that Flinn had been violating the distance barrier at ATOP and other voting sites, including the Agricenter, “for four days.”
He said he and Flinn encountered each other briefly at ATOP on Thursday, though apparently not within the 100-foot perimeter.
The congressman said Flinn, in greeting him, called him “buddy,” to which Cohen said he responded, “I’m not your buddy,” reminding Flinn of his recent TV ad which accused Cohen of absenteeism from Congress and “playing,” when, the congressman said, he was actually attending to his mother on her deathbed. “I told him to ask God for forgiveness,” Cohen said, whereupon “he just stood there, doing his gargoyle impression.”
Cohen said Flinn’s incursions within the 100-foot perimeter at voting sites were just some of his violations of campaign law. As another example, he said his opponent, a physician/radio magnate, had been appearing routinely on a cable station he owns without offering equal time to Cohen. “We eventually made him do that,” the congressman said.
Stanley said that Cohen was wildly exaggerating the situation and that he and his supporters were “going crazy” at the ATOP site Thursday. She attributed that to the congressman’s “getting nervous” about the way the election might go.
UPDATE: Reached on Friday morning, the day after the incident at Anointed Temple of Praise, Flinn said the account given by spokesperson Stanley was accurate, including what she had said were his reasons for crossing the 100-foot line -- a call of nature and a desire to vote.
Regarding the latter, Flinn said that when he was accused of "playing the system" by the security guard, he decided to avoid a public wrangle with the guard and to wait to cast his vote on election day.
He elaborated somewhat on his encounter with Cohen: "Really, he wasn't making any sense. He was incoherent."
Concerning Cohen's comment that he should ask God's forgiveness, Flinn said he replied, "For what? Telling the truth? You know it's all true."