Politics » Politics Feature

Loading the Bandwagon

Cohen picks up some important endorsements, but others are holding back.


It's a familiar image in American politics: The primary is over, the rivalries subside, the bitterness is forgotten, and the unsuccessful candidates at some point appear on a victory platform with the winner, pledging their support against the standard-bearer of the other party for the sake of the common cause and the greater glory.

Never mind the downcast eyes and the bitterness and disappointment that you know have to linger in the hearts of some of the losers. They're there, hands joined with their party's nominee with arms raised overhead as the formerly sundered partisans come together and cheer for the party's victory in November.

We've all seen it: It's the rule, not the exception. Even as we speak, former 4th District congressman Van Hilleary, the third-place finisher in the just-concluded Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, is touring the state in tandem with party nominee Bob Corker. And second-place finisher Ed Bryant, who gamely did such honors for current GOP senatorLamar Alexander when Alexander bested him in 2002, will presumably be there for Corker as well.

So where is the hand-holding and glad-handing and platform solidarity among the formerly teeming field of Democratic primary candidates in the 9th Congressional District?

Winner Steve Cohen is not without some stout intra-party support as he looks ahead to a three-way showdown in November involving Republican nominee Mark White and independent Jake Ford. Cohen was the honoree at a weekend "community breakfast" hosted by Shelby County mayor A C Wharton and Memphis mayor Willie Herenton (the latter of whom was out of town but lent his name to the event).

The roster of Democratic well-wishers present at the breakfast, held at the Beauty Shop restaurant in Cooper-Young, included Shelby County commissioners Deidre Malone, Cleo Kirk, Michael Hooks, and Shep Wilbun; commissioners-elect Steve Mulroy and Henri Brooks; city councilmen E.C. Jones and Myron Lowery; state representatives Beverly Marrero and Kathryn Bowers; and recent Bowers primary opponent Steve Webster.

Also on hand for the event, though steering clear of the politics, was Republican commissioner-elect Mike Carpenter, whose district overlaps with the 9th District.

Lee Harris, the young University of Memphis law professor who was among the recent field of 9th District congressional candidates, was there to offer Cohen his support.

But no Nikki Tinker, no Joe Ford Jr., no Julian Bolton, the second-, third-, and fourth-place Democratic primary finishers. And most of the others in the 15-strong field were either hedging their bets or not yet publicly committed.

Ford, a former California-based entertainment lawyer, is first cousin to both independent Jake Ford and outgoing 9th District congressman Harold Ford Jr., the party nominee for the U.S. Senate. His first post-primary impulse, communicated informally via the blog of Thaddeus Matthews, was to endorse victor Cohen, but he has since indicated he will do some further thinking before formalizing that action.

Tinker, the Pinnacle Airlines attorney who, like Ford, is a relatively recent transplant to the 9th District, has said she hasn't yet begun to think about an endorsement. Other also-rans, like Ed Stanton and state representative Joe Towns, have had so far inconclusive conversations with Cohen.

Harold Ford's Role: The most significant hold-off in the matter of a Cohen endorsement is undoubtedly Representative Ford himself. In the course of his statewide "Success Express" bus tour last week, the congressman and would-be U.S. senator told reporters that he would not get involved in the congressional race, other than to say, "I'm a Democrat. I support Democrats."

Spelling that out, Ford allowed that the term "Democrats" included both Cohen and brother Jake, who, through running as an independent, has promised to caucus with congressional Democrats if elected. The congressman's broad interpretation of the term apparently extended also to the three-way U.S. Senate race in Connecticut, where newly "independent" incumbent Joe Lieberman, previously endorsed by Ford, faces party nominee Ned LaMont and a no-name Republican.

"I'm not focused on it. I have my hands full here," Ford told the Nashville Tennessean by way of eschewing a choice.

When the matter of Ford's reticence in the two races came up during last Saturday's monthly meeting in Memphis of the Dutch Treat Luncheon, it drew a supportive reaction from David Cocke, a longtime Ford-family ally and an on-again, off-again power in the Democratic Party. "It'll hurt maybe among some liberal Democrats, but it wouldn't necessarily hurt among independents, who are looking for a congressman who's independent.

"You look at his voting record. It's very moderate. It may upset some of the members of the Democratic Party who are liberal -- sometimes it upsets me -- but it is pretty mainstream for the state of Tennessee, and he has been very effective on his tour."

Other Democrats, including several members of the state's increasingly influential blogging community, are not so sure. Adam Kleinheider of the Nashville-based Volunteer Voters Web site headed a recent post "Make a Decision" and demanded that Representative Ford answer the question "Are you voting for your brother or are you voting for Steve Cohen?"

The Crossover Factor: One of the unanswered questions from this month's election has been that of black votes for white candidates and vice versa. The question is especially pertinent in view of the current three-way status of the 9th District race.

Preliminary analysis of seven predominantly African-American precincts, selected at random, showed that Cohen fared well in the multi-candidate primary field, finishing with 18.89 percent of the vote in precinct48-00 (Hamilton Elementary); 15.35 percent in precinct 76-06 (New Nonconnah MB Church); 14.2 percent in precinct 50-01 (Riverview Community Center); 18.41 percent in precinct 92-02 (Zion CME Church); 14.82 percent in precinct 27-00 (Humes Middle School); 16.73 percent in precinct 75-11 (Geeter Junior High); and 18.89 percent in precinct 60-02 (Airways Junior High).

Tellingly, none of these precincts lies within Cohen's own state Senate district, where, presumably, his totals would be higher. The pattern overall is that Cohen, whose chief rivals were all black, finished second or third in predominantly African-American precincts.

Election Challenge: Lawyer Jay Bailey's bid to become chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party was turned back last week with a lopsided vote of the party's executive committee in favor of incumbent chairman Matt Kuhn.

In the wake of his defeat, Bailey recouped his loss somewhat and excited committee members with a claim that some 163 voters in last week's Shelby County election had been residents of Mississippi and had therefore cast ballots improperly.

Bailey's contention was apparently based on research done by John Harvey, a write-in candidate for sheriff whose computer expertise has fueled any number of challenges to voting results -- including those in last year's special state Senate election in District 29.

Election Commission chairman Greg Duckett and ranking Republican commission member Rich Holden suggested at the commission's Monday meeting, at which results were certified, that the alleged Mississippi residences could well be secondary or vacation homes.

In any case, Bailey has now cited the residence matter and other alleged irregularities in a Chancery Court petition to overturn the election results on behalf of Criminal Court Clerk candidate Vernon Johnson and Shelby County Clerk candidate Otis Jackson, Democrats and losers to the GOP's Bill Key and Debbie Stamson, respectively.

Similar suits have been filed by attorney Mark Allen on behalf of Democrats Shep Wilbun and Sondra Becton, losers to Republican incumbents Steve Stamson and Chris Thomas for the offices of Juvenile Court Clerk and Probate Court Clerk, respectively.

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