Freshman Rep. Steve Cohen prevailed by a wide margin in yesterday's closely-watched Democratic primary in Tennessee's Ninth District.
The campaign got ugly toward the end with two controversial ads from Cohen's challenger, lawyer Nikki Tinker. One of the ads showed images of Klansmen and denounced Rep. Cohen's vote not to remove the statue and remains of Confederate General and KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest from a Memphis park. The other ad raised eyebrows with a reference to the Jewish incumbent "praying in our churches." Tinker is African-American, and the 9th is a majority-black district.
Cohen held last-minute press conferences to condemn the ads. Tinker's mentor Harold Ford Jr., the DLC chairman who held the TN-9 seat until his unsuccessful 2006 run for US Senate, spoke out against them as well. And yesterday Barack Obama weighed in with a statement that did not mention either candidate by name but said "these incendiary and personal attacks have no place in our politics." Obama declined to endorse a candidate in the TN-9 primary.
Perhaps the strangest turn in the race came when a group of Armenian activists/Tinker supporters crashed a press conference at Cohen's house and the Congressman had to physically remove them. Cohen got on the group's bad side when he voted against a bill that would have labeled Turkey's treatment of Armenians during World War I genocide.
Despite the various dustups, in the end Cohen won in a landslide with 79% of the vote to Tinker's 19%. And the primary race that really turned out to be worth watching was on the opposite end of the state in the First District, where Rep. David Davis barely lost the Republican nomination to Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe. The defeat is noteworthy because Roe took down Davis by linking him to "big oil" and high gas prices.
It was the first time an incumbent Congressman has lost a primary in Tennessee since 1966.