Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen insists he has seen this movie before. For the third cycle, Cohen, who is white, will face an African-American challenger in the Democratic primary in his Memphis-based, majority-black 9th district.
“It’s kind of like ‘Groundhog Day,’” he told Roll Call late Thursday. “I feel like Bill Murray. It seems like every first of June, right after the election, I get an opponent.”
Tomeka Hart, the president of the Memphis Urban League and a member of the city’s school board, told the Memphis Flyer this week that she would file to run for Congress. Hart did not return a phone call to her office Thursday morning.
Cohen said he was confident he would defeat Hart as easily as he dispatched his previous primary challengers, former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton in 2010 and corporate lawyer Nikki Tinker in 2008. “I haven’t been able to get over 80 percent yet, and that’s my goal for this year,” Cohen said, referring to his whopping primary victories in 2010, when he won 78.7 percent of the vote, and in 2008, when he won with 79.4 percent. “I’m tired of these 79 percents.”
But he doesn’t intend to take the challenge lightly. “I always operate in at least third gear, and it will put me into overdrive more often,” the Congressman said. “I have a very competitive spirit. And when somebody runs against me, I get into that extremely competitive spirit.”
Cohen gently chastised Hart for not waiting to run.
“I believe she has a political future if she plays her cards right. But if you play your cards too early, you might have to fold. That’s her decision,” he said. “If somebody runs against me, I’m going to do all I can to make sure that they fold.”
Cohen served in the Tennessee Senate for 23 years before winning his first term in Congress in 2006. Hart has served on the Memphis school board for seven years.
The Tennessee Legislature has yet to complete redistricting, but Cohen said he was sure that whatever changes are made to the district will be to his advantage, including the potential for a larger black voting bloc.
“People have not quite grasped the fact that even though I am a Caucasian, that’s not how I’m viewed in my representation, my work ethic, my work product or my way of voting,” Cohen said. “And it’s been that way for 30 years. If they make my district more African-American, great.”