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Rep. Jim Cooper announces he will not run for reelection, accusing GOP of ‘dismembering’ his Nashville district

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Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) said Tuesday that he will not run for reelection, accusing his state’s General Assembly of “dismembering Nashville” in the once-a-decade redistricting process.

Cooper, 67, is the 29th House Democrat to announce retirement ahead of November’s midterm elections.

The increasing number of House Democratic retirements is adding to concerns the party may not be able to keep its majority in the House. (Video: Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post)

The Nashville-area congressman will have served 32 years in Congress when he retires next January. He first represented Tennessee’s 4th District from 1983 to 1995, then represented the 5th District beginning in 2002. He also pursued an unsuccessful Senate bid in 1994.

Cooper’s announcement comes after Tennessee’s Republican-controlled General Assembly approved a redistricting plan that will split Davidson County, which includes Nashville, into three congressional districts. Currently, the entire county is within the 5th District.

“Despite my strength at the polls, I could not stop the General Assembly from dismembering Nashville,” Cooper said in a statement Tuesday. “No one tried harder to keep our city whole. I explored every possible way, including lawsuits, to stop the gerrymandering and to win one of the three new congressional districts that now divide Nashville. There’s no way, at least for me in this election cycle, but there may be a path for other worthy candidates.”

Cooper said he was announcing his decision “promptly so that others have more time to campaign,” and he pledged to return the individual donations his campaign had received.

Community organizer Odessa Kelly had announced a Democratic primary challenge against Cooper last year. In recent days, she has sharply criticized state Republicans’ redistricting plan, accusing GOP lawmakers of “once again trying to take away the votes of Black people in our state.”

She said in a tweet Monday night: “I don’t have to imagine what it felt like for my parents to have their voices & votes erased in the Jim Crow South anymore. We’re living through a racist power grab. But I’m not giving up. My fire’s been lit. We’ve fought too hard for too long to let them take it all away now.”

National Republicans pointed to Cooper’s retirement as only the latest signal that Democrats are uncertain about their party’s prospects in the November election. “Democrats’ retirement crisis shows no signs of slowing down,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Camille Gallo said in a statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that Cooper “has always been willing to reach across the aisle to deliver for his beloved home state, especially as a former co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition.”

“For his ironclad commitment to respect, civility and service, Congressman Cooper has gained many admirers on both sides of the aisle, as well as among his former staffers and interns," Pelosi said.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, thanked Cooper for his “decades of public service fighting for Tennesseans.”

“From his contributions to the fight for voting rights, to his dedication to keeping our fiscal house in order, Jim’s passion for good governance shines through in everything he does,” Maloney said in a statement.