Cohen’s Fate to Be Decided

Posted August 7, 2008 at 10:16am

After a wild final week of campaigning, primary voting is under way in Tennessee and all eyes are on the highly charged Democratic battle taking place in the Memphis-based 9th district.

The contest has taken on sharp racial overtones in this majority-black district, where Rep. Steve Cohen (D), who is white, is facing off against attorney Nikki Tinker, a black woman who came in second behind Cohen in the 2006 open-seat primary.

Earlier this week, Tinker released an ad that blasted Cohen for not supporting “our churches,” a remark that Cohen and others have interpreted as anti-semitic considering Cohen’s Jewish heritage. The ad she released prior to that sought to link Cohen to the founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

Cohen called a press conference Wednesday inside his Memphis home to denounce the ads. But that event turned into a spectacle of its own when an Armenian-American cameraman, who Cohen said was working for Tinker and had been harassing him, tried to join the group of reporters gathered. After telling the cameraman to leave, Cohen proceeded to literally push the man — who claimed to be making a documentary about the campaign — out the door.

After shutting the door on the man, Cohen explained to the gathered media that the cameraman’s harassment “has been a last resort thing” and “something I’ve never seen before.”

After saying the cameraman should “go back to California,” a visibly shaken Cohen — who has remained supremely confident of his re-election chances — went on to tell local reporters his thoughts on some of Tinker’s other supporters in the race.

“EMILY’s List needs to go back to Washington and New York. The people who are doing these ads from Washington, they need to go home too,” Cohen said. “Memphis people need to determine and will determine this election, and all these outsiders who don’t know Steve Cohen need to get out of it.”

The pro-abortion rights group EMILY’s List has been a key fundraiser and supporter of Tinker since endorsing her in early June. During her 2006 campaign Tinker also had significant support from EMILY’s List (although the group got behind her campaign a full three months earlier than it did this cycle.)

Although Cohen called out EMILY’s List on Wednesday, the group’s president, Ellen Malcolm, issued a statement Wednesday night condemning the ad that had caused such a stir in the first place.

“We were shocked to see the recent ads run by the Nikki Tinker for Congress campaign,” Malcolm said. “We believe the ads are offensive and divisive. EMILY’s List does not condone or support these types of attacks.”

Polls close at 7 p.m. local time Thursday in Memphis.

See Fox 13 video of Cohen’s encounter here.