Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis (TN -- 9th CD) has defeated challenger Nikki Tinker to win the Democratic primary and will run for reelection in the November general election. The primary campaign subjected Cohen, a liberal who distinguished himself as extremely able in his first term, to unusually harsh and sometimes overtly anti-Semitic attacks. Tinker's campaign also featured overt homophobia . Final results: Cohen 79% - Tinker 19%.
Rev. George Brooks of Murfreesboro, TN, the author of the leaflet, actually lives outside the 9th CD. According to a local blogger (grain of salt alert), Brooks' relatives within the district disavowed his bigotry and endorsed Cohen (read here). Tinker refused to comment on the leaflet for over 2 days until being cornered by an AP reporter and disavowing it. By that time, news of it was all over Memphis.
Days before the primary, Tinker issued a not very subtle appeal to Christian anti-Semitism with an ad, since deleted from Tinker's website. Here's a description from the politics blog of the Nashville Post (read here):
In the ad, a child’s voice is heard praying while the narrator, clearly meant to be a black woman but not Tinker, wonders who “the real Steve Cohen is anyway” while questioning one of Cohen votes on school prayer while in the state Senate.
While he’s is OUR churches clapping his hands and tapping his feet, he was the only Senator who thought OUR kids shouldn’t be allowed to pray in school.
TPM Election Central has some great background on the longstanding Jew-baiting strategy of Nikki Tinker (read here). Money quote:
A Washington Dem source told Election Central that the roots of Tinker's strategy were apparent as far back as a 2006 fundraiser. "I was at this event where she said that she didn't think this other guy Steve Cohen was gonna win because the constituents weren't gonna support somebody who doesn't accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior," the source said. "Everyone's jaw kind of dropped, and certainly we didn't write her a check."
(More about the ad is available here. Former Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey, speaking for the Tinker campaign, defended the ad here.)
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama condemned Tinker, saying
"These incendiary and personal attacks have no place in our politics, and will do nothing to help the good people of Tennessee. It's time to turn the page on a politics driven by negativity and division so that we can come together to lift up our communities and our country."
Nikki Tinker, is a protege of Democratic Leadership Council chair Harold Ford, Jr., who represented the district from 1996 - 2006, (he took the seat over from his father, who represented the area from 1974 - 1996). In the 2008 Demorcratic primary, Harold Ford, Jr. provided behind-the-scenes logistical support to Nikki Tinker's campaign, and, through his wife Emily Threlkeld Ford, gave Tinker the legally allowed maximum campaign donation (read here and here). Donations by politicians are sometimes funneled through a spouse to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest. (For more on the Ford - Tinker connection read here.)
Cohen first ran for Congress against Ford in the 1996 Democratic primary -- a race which Ford won. In the course of that campaign, Cohen accused Ford, then a law student, of being unqualified. When Ford decided to run for Senate in the 2006 election, he relinquished his House seat and Cohen won the Democratic nomination to succeed him. Ford's brother Jake then decided to run for the vacant seat as an independent -- and lost by a wide margin to the Democrat Cohen (read here). In that campaign, Jake Ford explicitly stated that he was running because the district needed to be represented by an African-American. Harold Ford, Jr. disavowed that comment when asked about it on the senatorial campaign trail-- he was trying to appeal to Tennessee's largely conservative white electorate .
Anti-gay and Anti-Union -- and working for Ford
In addition to her campaign's anti-gay positions, Nikki Tinker's strong anti-unionism made her an odd choice to be backed by a Democratic senatorial candidate. By profession, she's a corporate labor lawyer who literally specializes in union busting. Her former firm, Ford & Harrison (read here), represents only management and describes their labor law practice as follows:
Collective bargaining, union organizing drives and decertification of existing organized bargaining units can be handled successfully if management teams are given the knowledge and insight necessary to deal with these issues. Ford & Harrison labor lawyers represent and advise employers in all phases of labor relations matters as they arise under the National Labor Relations Act and the Railway Labor Act.
For union-free employers we:
- develop effective, lawful strategies to prevent unions from organizing, including advice on handling pre-petition activities;
- advise on proper handling of concerted activities and National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and National Mediation Board (NMB) representation proceedings;
- handle investigations and, if necessary, trials and appeals of unfair labor practice charges; and
- conduct union avoidance training for all levels of management.
For unionized employers we:
- counsel on collective bargaining and contract administration strategies;
- represent clients in negotiations, grievance and arbitration cases, unfair labor practice charges, strikes, injunctions, and other litigation; and
- assist in developing an atmosphere which makes unions unnecessary which may lead to NLRB decertification proceedings.
Tinker currently serves as Vice President for Labor Relations and General Counsel at Pinnacle Airlines. Her bio on the Pinnacle Airlines website still lists her as "Campaign Strategist" for Harold Ford. (Read here.) For several years, Pinnacle refused to negotiate with their pilots to resolve outstanding issues such as the lack of pay raises since 2004. In March of this year, Pinnacle's labor practices with respect to its pilots was ruled to be in violation of federal labor laws (Read here and here.)
[While spending their time fighting their workers, Pinnacle management may have been letting their business go down the tubes. In June, it was revealed that the company lost its contract to fly "feeder routes" for Delta. Delta also announcing its intention to acquire Northwest, Pinnacle's largest contract, and eliminate the outsourcing of Northwest's "feeder routes". (Read here.)]
Tinker's campaign received an unusually high amount of donations from Washington lobbyists, garnering about twice as much money from Washington (in purely geographic terms) as the incumbent. She also got backing from corporate attorneys and, of course, from Pinnacle Airlines. (Read here.) She was also backed by the Emily's List PAC, which provided the Tinker campaign with its largest single donation. Emily's List, which had been criticized for supporting Tinker, has since condemned Tinker and issued a mea culpa. Of course, their money had already been used to produce the offensive ad.
By the way, Cohen's contributions came largely from labor unions. (Read here.)