Politics » Politics Feature

To the Alamo!

Representative Steve Cohen files for reelection amid reports of a favorable poll.



Noting that he was one of the successors to the legendary Davey Crockett as congressional representative of Tennessee's westernmost district, 9th District congressman Steve Cohen formally filed for reelection at the Election Commision on Monday.

And Cohen assured a crowd of supporters that, come the weekend, he would be in San Antonio, site of Crockett's doom at the Alamo, to urge on the Final Four-bound University of Memphis Tigers in a redeeming victory in the NCAA tournament. "And we will win, too!" Cohen said of the 2008 Democratic primary, in which he is opposed by 2006 runner-up Nikki Tinker, among others.

Cohen's optimism concerning the primary (the winner will face Jake Ford, running again as an independent, in the general) was no doubt enhanced by a recent poll conducted by the veteran team of John Bakke and Keith Ethridge.

What the poll, conducted several weeks back, indicates is that Cohen's "positives" were high and that his edge over Tinker was in the double digits, Bakke said. But he cautioned that the poll, of the automated variety and involving some 400 respondents, was "experimental" and preliminary and would be followed up by a more comprehensive sampling.

• The newest member of the Shelby County delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly is Karen Camper, an educator, entertainment executive, and entrepreneur and a veteran of 21 years' Army service as an intelligence officer. Camper won nine first-ballot votes from members of the Shelby County Commission on Monday and eventually won acclamation as successor to the late Gary Rowe in House District 87. Other candidates for the interim appointment were Jennings Bernard and Andrew Withers, both of whom, along with Camper, had indicated a desire to seek the position in this year's regular Democratic primary.

Camper ran unsuccessfully for the District 2 position on the City Council last fall and was one of several aspirants late last year for interim appointment to complete the school board term of Wanda Halbert, who had been elected to the City Council.

• Shelby County's Democrats made it official Saturday, as the party's executive committee nominated current interim trustee Paul Mattila as the official Democratic candidate. The trustee's position became vacant after the death in January of longtime trustee Bob Patterson.

The Shelby County Republicans were scheduled to follow suit early this week when they chose their nominee from among several candidates — Ray Butler, Derrick Bennett, and Jeff Jacobs. There was speculation, too, that the GOP's John Willingham would make a run as an independent.

Mattila's major test, if you can call it that, occurred last week during a meeting with the Democrats' candidate recruitment committee. Given that only one Democrat, himself, was seeking the nomination, Mattila's success was assured. That didn't stop an inquisition of sorts from one or two dissenters, however. That was based mainly on Mattila's statement, after being named interim trustee by the County Commission, that he intended keeping "the team" together that he had inherited from Republican Patterson.

Mattila, who refused to back down on the point, was able to convince most committee members that it would be folly to interrupt continuity in the conduct of the trustee's office or to junk experienced employees merely because they had been appointed by a Republican. (Mattila himself had been an integral member of the team as governmental liaison.)

In the end, only one member of the examining committee, Tara Maxwell, voted not to endorse Mattila.

Marsha Blackburn, the Republican congressman (her preferred term) for Tennessee's 7th congressional district, would seem unassailable at the polls. Since her first — relatively easy — primary victory in 2002 over a field of mainly well-known fellow Republicans, she has basically had nominal opposition and that from self-sacrificing no-name Democrats in the fall.

But suddenly, with next week's filing deadline beckoning, Blackburn faces primary opposition from a GOP office-holder, Shelby County register and former state senator Tom Leatherwood, who reckons that his day job, which isn't up for election again until 2010, will serve as a satisfactory "parachute," is ready to take Blackburn on this year.

"I told somebody, 'It's not a steep hill. I've just walked up to the face of the cliff,'" Leatherwood jests self-effacingly. But he believes the risk (which includes possible estrangement from certain fellow Republicans) is worth taking.

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