Politics » Politics Feature

During Campaign Heat, Memphis Democrats Have Cooled Relations



Depending on whom you asked Saturday, Democrat Harold Ford Jr. was either trailing Republican Bob Corker by ten points or leading him by six in the final days of the Tennessee Senate race. The latter figure is Ford's own, and its reiteration was the ostensible reason for his campaign's decision to schedule a press conference at four o'clock Saturday afternoon -- the precise moment that Steve Cohen, Democratic nominee for the Congressional Ninth District, was holding a rally in Midtown.

More than a week ago, the Cohen campaign made several efforts to invite Ford to the event, billed as a "Democratic Unity Rally," according to people in the campaign. Both events, geared to draw media attention, instead drew attention away from each other. In spite of the scheduling conflict, campaign manager Kevin Gallagher did not regard the parallel timing of the two events as a slight. "The message just didn't get passed up the chain," Gallagher explained. "From the beginning, there has been a breakdown in communication."

That beginning, of course, was the August 3 primary. After Cohen won the Democratic nomination, independent candidate Jake Ford, Harold's brother, began his House campaign in earnest. Since then, relations between the two Democratic campaigns have been less than hostile, but awkward at best.

If indeed Cohen got a cold shoulder from Ford yesterday, it was not apparent to anyone in attendance at Cohen's headquarters. Flanked by Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Matt Kuhn and Councilwoman Carol Chumney, among others, Cohen voiced his full-throated support for Ford during his speech.

Cohen field director Liz Rincon, who organized the event, also expressed her support for Ford's Senate bid, but did give vent to some frustration over the strained relationship between the two campaigns since the primary. Describing what she believes was a lost opportunity, she outlined "what an amazing image it would have been to have a white Jewish Representative from a black district, and a black Senator from a white state." Had the two Memphis Democrats campaigned together, she said, it would have shown that "we don't care about race down here."

Gallagher was also perturbed by the lack of comity between the two Democratic campaigns. "We have expended every opportunity," he said, "to coordinate and use our resources to help get Harold Ford elected because we want a Democratic majority." Referring to a recent press release from Ford's campaign in which the Senate candidate accused Cohen of, among other things, wanting to "cut and run in Iraq," Gallagher said, "I understand that Harold's brother is in the race, but don't work against us."

The Ford campaign issued a press release Saturday from its internal pollster, Benenson Strategy Group, challenging the methodology of the conflicting polls, concluding that "the race is a tossup and too close to call heading into the final week." The Commercial Appeal, which endorsed Ford for the second time in an editorial Sunday morning, released the results of the latest poll in the same edition. The poll, from Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, shows Ford behind his Republican opponent by an even wider margin: twelve points

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