Yes, it’s true: Steve Cohen has an opponent. The 9th District Congressman, who has knocked off a serious string of Democratic challengers since 2006, when he first emerged victorious from a multi-candidate primary field, now faces a 2020 bid from Corey Strong, the former Shelby County Democratic chairman.
Strong acknowledges that Cohen has made the appropriate votes in Congress, supported legislation that a Democrat should have supported, properly backed up Democratic President Obama, and has correctly opposed Republican President Trump. Further, says Strong, the Congressman has successfully become a factor in key national dialogues.
What he has failed to do, Strong maintains, is to bring jobs to a home region that desperately needs them. Strong even finds evidence of this alleged failure in a well-publicized stunt staged by Cohen last spring on the House Judiciary Committee. That was the occasion in May when the Congressman ridiculed the failure of Attorney General William Barr to answer a subpoena by wolfing down pieces from a Kentucky Fried Chicken basket at his seat on the committee.
Cohen got headlines, both pro and con, and, says Strong, “I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is that we’ve got all kinds of local fried-chicken enterprises here in Memphis, and he could have made his point with them if he wanted. But he didn’t.”
Strong is well aware that Cohen, who is white and Jewish, has easily dispatched all previous would-be party rivals in his predominantly African-American Memphis district since that first victory in 2006. He has triumphed over Justin Ford, Willie Herenton, Tomeka Hart, Ricky Wilkins, and Nikki Tinker, all of whom had either name recognition or financial support or both.
He has done so, as Strong acknowledges, by careful attention to the needs of his constituency in most ways — save the aforementioned inability to raise the income level of his district.
Strong believes he can succeed at that task, where, he says, Cohen has not. And one way of demonstrating his prowess will be to raise a campaign budget that will allow him to compete with the financially well-endowed incumbent Congressman on relatively even terms..
“I will do that,” says Strong, a Naval Reserve officer who in 2017 became the renovated Shelby County Democratic Party’s bounce-back chairman after it was decommissioned by the state Democrats a year earlier during a period of internal stress and discord within the local party.
Strong acknowledges that Michael Harris, his successor as local party chairman, has had a difficult problem arousing support from party cadres because of issues stemming from his suspended law practice. But, says Strong, local Democrats have a duty to support their party.
The future congressional aspirations of current Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris have become so obvious as to make Harris’ ambitions something of a public proverb, and a good race next year by Strong, even if unsuccessful, could serve the purpose of setting up a future challenge against Mayor Harris. But Strong insists he is in the 9th District race this year to win.