Sucker Punch
A Tennessee congressional race gets ugly.

Monday, September 28, 2009

REP. STEPHEN I. Cohen (D-Tenn.) has represented the 9th Congressional District since 2006. He is white, but his district is majority African American. Mr. Cohen has worked hard to earn his constituents' votes in two consecutive elections. But that hasn't stopped him from being sucker-punched with the race card by his black Democratic opponent, former Memphis mayor Willie W. Herenton.

Mr. Herenton is a historic figure in Memphis. He became that city's first elected African American executive in 1991 and was elected to a fifth term in 2007. And then, a few months after his reelection, he announced he was stepping down to "pursue other challenges." This led to a political theater of the absurd as he changed his mind twice about whether and when to depart. Mr. Herenton finally decided to challenge Mr. Cohen and to inject race into the contest in its rawest form.

"To know Steve Cohen is to know that he really does not think very much of African-Americans," Mr. Herenton, also a former Golden Gloves boxer, said in a recent radio interview. "He's played the black community well." His campaign manager continued that theme with the New York Times when he said, "This seat was set aside for people who look like me. It wasn't set aside for a Jew or a Christian. It was set aside so that blacks could have representation."

Is that so? Then someone neglected to tell that to the district's free-thinking voters, more than 60 percent of whom are African American. In 2006, Mr. Cohen was sent to Washington with 60 percent of the general election vote. Mr. Herenton endorsed Mr. Cohen in that race, by the way. In 2008, Mr. Cohen returned after winning 87.9 percent of the vote against three independent challengers. Mr. Cohen has a record to run on. Would that Mr. Herenton and his campaign spend more time finding ways to challenge him on it than jumping into the gutter with low-road tactics that divide rather than enlighten.

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