Was It Something He Said?

By Mary Ann Akers And Paul Kane
Thursday, June 5, 2008

The grueling Democratic presidential primary season may be over, but the pain is only intensifying for freshman Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a supporter of Sen. Barack Obama whose gaffe last month comparing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to a crazed Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction" has become more of a horror show than he ever expected.

Cohen says he has always prided himself on his advocacy of women's rights but has never felt more dissed by the opposite sex. Paraphrasing his musical idol, the late Warren Zevon, Cohen said he almost wants to "lay my head down on the railroad tracks and wait for the Double E . . . poor, poor pitiful me."

Part of the problem is that the powerful fundraising group Emily's List, which helps elect women who support abortion rights to Congress, made the unusual decision to endorse Cohen's main primary challenger, airline lawyer Nikki Tinker. Tinker has no abortion-rights record; Cohen, one of the most liberal members of the House, has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood's political action committee and has received a "100 percent pro-choice score" from NARAL.

So why the endorsement?

"It's because I'm a man," Cohen says. "And it's a woman thing."

Cohen's second crime was answering a question last month about Clinton's continued candidacy this way: "Glenn Close should have just stayed in the tub." The remark brought a torrent of outrage from women -- including Emily's List members -- and Cohen apologized in very short order.

The congressman is indignant at the treatment he's receiving. "Just a little joke about getting out of the race and all of a sudden I'm a misogynist," Cohen tells us. He says Emily's List, by working to unseat him, is "playing speech police."

Cohen's third transgression was endorsing Obama for president. Emily's List strongly backed Clinton.

Cohen suggests that the group's president, Ellen Malcolm, is punishing him for his choice. "I've been a surrogate of Barack Obama, and I don't think they liked that," he says.

Emily's List doesn't cite Cohen's endorsement of Obama or his comparison of Clinton to Close as reasons for endorsing his opponent. Jonathan Parker, the group's political director, says: "This is not just about Cohen. It's a choice. We think Tinker is a better choice." But he would not say why.

Cohen, who is Jewish, is the only white member of Congress to represent a majority-African American district. Tinker is black. Both race and religion have become factors in the Memphis district contest.

A black minister in Murfreesboro, Tenn., which isn't in Cohen's district, has circulated literature to Cohen's constituents warning: "Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen and the JEWS HATE Jesus." The literature encouraged other black leaders in Memphis to "see to it that one and ONLY one black Christian faces this opponent of Christ and Christianity in the 2008 election."

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