Cohen’s campaign track record

By , Daily Memphian Published: July 30, 2020 4:00 AM CT

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen took office in 2007 after claiming the 9th District Congressional seat in the 2006 midterm elections. The Democratic state senator had been an unsuccessful candidate for the Congressional seat in 1996 when Harold Ford Jr. claimed the seat previously held by his father, Harold Ford Sr.

The seat has been held by a Democrat since 1974 when Harold Ford Sr. upset incumbent Republican Dan Kuykendall in what was then the 8th Congressional District. Since then, the district has been heavily Democratic in its makeup with Republican contenders and the winner of the GOP primary seldom being a factor. The closer contest is in the Democratic primary.

<strong>U.S. Rep. </strong><br /><strong>Steve Cohen</strong>

U.S. Rep.
Steve Cohen

2006: Cohen was one of 15 contenders in the Democratic primary for the seat open when incumbent Democrat Harold Ford Jr. ran for U.S. Senate, losing to Republican Bob Corker. Cohen won the primary with 31% of the vote. Nikki Tinker, a political newcomer whose first notice came from Washington Beltway pundits, was the closest contender with 25% of the vote. The field was also notable for the number of other primary contenders who would be heard from in future outings, including former City Council member and state Sen. Lee Harris and future U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton.

2008: Tinker returned with substantial backing from Emily’s List, a Washington Beltway PAC looking for an increase in the ranks of women in the Capitol. Nevertheless, Cohen won the primary easily with 79% of the vote, compared to 19% for Tinker and 1% for state Rep. Joe Towns. It didn’t hurt that Cohen had been an early backer of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama in that year’s Democratic presidential primary at a time when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was heavily favored. Clinton took the state in the primary earlier that year but Obama carried Shelby County.

2010: What to some is the most storied match-up. Cohen was challenged by Willie Herenton, fresh from the Memphis mayor’s office and five for five in running for electoral office. Cohen got 78.6% of the vote to Herenton’s 21.2%.

2012: Shelby County Schools board member Tomeka Hart also had a one-on-one shot at Cohen. But unlike Herenton, Hart specifically declined to describe her candidacy as that of a black consensus challenger. Despite Hart underestimating the importance of at least getting close to Cohen in campaign spending, Cohen ran an aggressive campaign in terms of media buys and public appearances all the way to election day. As a result, he won with 89.2% of the vote to Hart’s 10.7% – a political high-water mark for Cohen against credible challengers.

2014: Cohen’s closest call so far came from Ricky E. Wilkins, attorney and leader of the Memphis Housing Authority board. Wilkins, like Hart, came to the contest with a funding disadvantage but his energy level, even without campaign cash, was much closer to Cohen’s energy level and campaign pacing. Cohen won the primary with 66.1% of the vote to Wilkins’ 32.5% and 1.2% for Isaac Richmond, a perennial Democratic primary contender going back to the days of Harold Ford Sr.

2016: For the first time since winning the seat, Cohen had nothing but token opposition in the 2016 primary. County Commissioner Justin Ford, the cousin of Harold Ford Jr. and the nephew of Harold Ford Sr., didn’t mount an active campaign despite a lot of front-end speculation and the remaining power the Ford name has. Cohen got 84.3% of the vote to Ford’s 10.6%. M. LaTroy Williams and Larry Crim, a U.S. Senate contender from previous elections who lives in middle Tennessee, were the rest of the pack.

2018: Again, only token primary opposition from Richmond and Kasandra L. Smith. Cohen won the primary with 90.8% of the vote.

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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