Thursday’s Republican and Democratic primaries for the 9th Congressional District seat look like anything but a toss-up, observes Bart Sullivan. Name recognition and funding heavily favor incumbent Steve Cohen and challenger Dr. George S. Flinn Jr. In fact, in a speech to the United Transportation Union’s meeting at The Peabody last week, Cohen was already predicting a Democratic primary win over Memphis City Schools board representative and Memphis Urban League CEO Tomeka R. Hart.
“Then we’ve got a general election going up against a self-funder,” Cohen told the union members. “He’s going to spend probably $3 (million) or $4 million dollars.”
He wasn’t talking about 2010 Republican nominee Charlotte Bergmann, who has raised $19,495 this election cycle and had $531.93 in cash on hand in her most recent Federal Election Commission report this month.
Flinn, 68, raised $3,385 in the period between July 1-13, has loaned his campaign committee $1 million, has already spent $354,417 and has $442,948 in his FEC account.
…Flinn also appears to be looking to November, and Cohen. He said he will take issue with Cohen’s liberal voting record, saying “my views are more in line with Memphis and Shelby County,” which he said he believes are “middle-of-the-road conservative.”
…Flinn, who owns more than 40 radio stations from California to Florida, including Hot 107.1, a hip-hop station in Memphis, said he will spend “whatever it takes to get the message out.” Flinn spent $3.6 million in 2010 in his loss to Fincher in the GOP primary.
It has been a long time since Memphis and Shelby County saw a truly competitive Republican primary race in the 9th Congressional District, observes Bart Sullivan. And then came 2012. Charlotte Bergmann, 59, a Republican businesswoman who won 25 percent of the general election vote in 2010 when she ran against incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, drew a primary election opponent this year in deep-pocketed Dr. George S. Flinn Jr., 68, a former Shelby County commissioner. Two other candidates, Ernest Lunati and Rollin Wilson Stooksberry, both of whom have little support and few resources, are also on the GOP ballot this year.
…Bergmann had two little-known Republican opponents in 2010 and won the nomination with 13,285 votes. Voting records dating back to 1980 show only seven contested Republican Party primaries in the 9th District and nine uncontested races.
The contested race this time, and the prospect of big money being spent, “shows that there’s a lot of interest on the Republican side to replace Steve Cohen,” said Justin Joy, the Shelby County Republican Party chairman. With the changes in the 9th District’s boundaries that resulted from this year’s congressional redistricting, he added, “there’s a possibility” a Republican could win.
Flinn ran in the 8th Congressional District in 2010 and lost in a three-way Republican primary to political newcomer Stephen Fincher despite spending $3.6 million, most of it his own money
Flinn has loaned his campaign $1 million, and according to his most recent quarterly statement to the Federal Election Commission in April, he had raised $11,599 and had $699,092 in the committee bank account. Bergmann had raised $7,497 and had $3,283 in cash on hand in April.
Bergmann’s campaign manager, Randy Lawson, resigned last week because of what she described as “the impact of the current severe economic conditions.”
Flinn’s campaign-spending history translates into a man accustomed to “dropping big bucks” with nothing to show for it, according to Bergmann.
“I respect Dr. Flinn; don’t get me wrong,” she said. “His heart is in the right place. But he’s been a nine-time loser. It’s not only just money that enables one to win a campaign.”
There’s a historical precedent for what Tomeka Hart is trying to do, reports Bart Sullivan. In 2004, she took on a powerful, 17-year incumbent, and beat him with 68 percent of the vote to win a seat on the Memphis City Schools board. Now a member of the unified school board that is carrying out the merger of Memphis and Shelby County schools, Hart is aiming higher this year. Her sights are set on three-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary that is tantamount to outright election in the heavily Democratic 9th Congressional District.
She said she is “absolutely not” running just to raise her profile for a future shot at the seat.
“I’m running to win right now,” said the 41-year-old former school teacher and labor lawyer who’s on leave as president and CEO of the Memphis Urban League. “The district can’t wait until he (Cohen) retires to get the kind of leadership I’m talking about.”
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen could have as much as $5.08 million in assets, drew a state pension of $23,128, and traveled to Rwanda, Germany, Israel and Spain at someone else’s expense last year, according to a disclosure that’s the subject of a Commercial Appeal report today. All members of Congress are required to file an annual description of their assets, liabilities, outside positions on boards, compensated travel and other financial information each May 15. The reports do not include their annual $174,000 salaries as members.
Among Mid-South members, U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., whose district will include even more of Shelby County next year, reported $33,943 in income from row crop farming and paid-for trips to Israel and Los Angeles. In addition, he and his wife, Lynn, own farm land worth between $500,000 and $1 million but have outstanding debts from the purchase of equipment of between $795,000 and $1.7 million.
…U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., whose district will no longer encompass parts of Greater Memphis next year because of redistricting, received a $4,202 state pension for service in the legislature and reported she could have as much as $660,000 in assets. She has mortgages on property in Brentwood, Tenn. Blackburn’s travel paid for by others included trips to Vienna, Austria; Palm Beach; Las Vegas; Dallas; and Hilton Head, S.C
Congressman Steve Cohen is backing state Sen. Beverly Marrero in her Democratic primary contest against Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, reports Jackson Baker. The Republican redistricting plan requires the two to run against one another. Cohen described Marrero as “my good friend, my successor, the lady who stands up when people need to stand up, the person with courage, the person with the right voice for the City of Memphis and for Senate District 30,” while he referred to Kyle, a longtime party rival, as someone “who in redistricting took Senate District 30 and made it into something different.”
Of his own reelection campaign, in which he has Tomeka Hart as a Democratic primary opponent, Cohen focused on the likely Republican nominee in the 9th District race, former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn, the wealthy radiologist and broadcast magnate who, as Cohen noted, has waged unsuccessful races in the past for county mayor, City Council, and Congress.
“We’ve got a primary, but the enemy is the Republicans, and we’ve got a self-funder that’ll be running against me in the fall….He’s going to spend a lot of money, so we’re going to spend some money, too, and we’ll do everything we can to see that this is his worst defeat.”
State Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis asked the Tennessee secretary of state on Wednesday to conduct a “formal investigation” into allegations that the voting histories of 488 Shelby County registered voters were deleted from Election Commission records, reports the Commercial Appeal. Critics are concerned that such deletions could pave the way for the purging of those voters’ names from the official rolls. The Senate Democratic leader’s letter follows a similar request by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., for investigations by U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins into the allegations originally made by voting rights activist Bev Harris, whose Black Box Voting website monitors irregularities with voters nationwide. (Note: Previous post HERE) …Hargett, in a media statement in response to Kyle’s letter, said that his office “began our investigation as soon as we heard about this matter. We want to assure Leader Kyle and everyone involved that we take these matters very seriously. We keep the database of official voters at the state and no voter histories have been deleted in Shelby County.”
“We have checked the list of those who believed their data had been deleted, and all have (a voting) history. No one on the list was scheduled to be purged because of inactivity. If they had been scheduled to be purged, they would have received confirmation notices,” Hargett said.
Hargett’s spokesman, Blake Fontenay, said the state is “still trying to figure out how people got data that appeared to show the histories as erased.”
Vowing to run hard against “two millionaires, actual millionaires, one in the primary, one in the general election,” 9th District congressional candidate Tomeka Hart has opened up her headquarters. The Memphis Flyer reports: Addressing a group of supporters drawn heavily from the ranks of New Path, the activist group that gave her a start in politics by boosting her for the Memphis City Schools board in 2004, Democrat Hart promised to focus on local issues in a way that she said the incumbent Democrat, Steve Cohen, has not.
Hart even managed to turn a supporter’s suggestion that she might have considered running for mayor or the City Council first into a slam against Cohen.
“I get that a lot,” she said, contending that such advice reflects a sense in the district that the current congressman is “not about local issues, but all about national politics….That seat should be completely about what’s going on in Memphis.”
Having reviewed her role as a prime mover on the MCS board in 2010 for the charter surrender that forced the ongoing city/county school merger, Hart said she had asked Cohen for aid and support of the merger movement but had been turned down. “The response was he wasn’t getting involved in local issues,” Hart said.
Congressman Steve Cohen, already considered far ahead of potential rivals in his Democratic primary race, both in campaign finances and in voter support, has delivered what might be the coup de grace, according to the Memphis Daily News. Cohen’s campaign announced that President Obama, on the very eve of the race, had endorsed the congressman for reelection in the August 2 Democratic primary and beyond. In a statement released by the congressman’s campaign staff, the President was unequivocal in his support:
“Congressman Steve Cohen has worked with me on jobs bills, health care, and other issues of importance to the middle class. He also never fails to pitch me on the city of Memphis, whether it’s Booker T. Washington High School, Memphis basketball, or barbeque. I urge you to vote for Steve Cohen, a tireless advocate for the 9th District.”
Dr. George S. Flinn Jr., a radiologist and radio station magnate who has sought or held public office in Shelby County since 2002, said Wednesday he will seek as a Republican the 9th Congressional seat held by Democrat Steve Cohen.
From the Commercial Appeal: “It’s a winnable district,” Flinn said. “The redistricting really changed the makeup of the district. I’m looking forward to winning.”
Flinn, who spent $3.5 million of his own money losing the GOP primary in the 8th Congressional District to Stephen Fincher in 2010, said Cohen “has not done a very good job in Congress.”
“We’re not as well off as when he started. Gas prices are up. Unemployment’s up. It’s time for me to get in there and make some difference because I’m worried about what I’m going to leave to my children and grandchildren.”
Cohen dismissed Flinn’s candidacy, saying, “I take care of my constituents. My relationship with my district is based on how I treat my district and it doesn’t make any difference who should run — Democrat, Republican or independent.
“My analysis of it is, on the worst day possible, I’ll get 71 percent of the vote,” Cohen said of the November general election.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen says a congressional redistricting plan being considered this week by the Tennessee legislature would remove all of the major Jewish institutions and much of the Jewish vote from the 9th District, reports the Commercial Appeal. Cohen, the first Jewish congressman elected from Tennessee, said the plan draws an “appendage” west from the proposed 8th Congressional District, currently represented by Republican Stephen Fincher, up the Poplar Corridor as far west as The Links at Galloway Golf Course.
Detailed copies of the congressional district maps have not been released publicly despite plans to introduce and pass them this week.
“Nearly every Jewish person in my district would be taken out because the Jewish people in Memphis all live out east,” Cohen said. “There’s a handful in Downtown and Midtown.”
Politically, Cohen said, he wants those voters in his district because he has represented their interests in the state senate and in Congress for 20 years.
“There’s a commonality of interests from social issues as well as foreign policy where there’s been a connection over the years,” he said.
John Ryder, chairman of the Republican National Committee’s redistricting committee and a Memphis lawyer advising the state legislative leadership, said that to the best of his knowledge, “nobody took into account the location of any religious institutions.”