POLITICS: Signposts 

Ford gets boosted, bloggers do their thing, and what’s next for Cohen?

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I hate to say “I told you so” (well, no, I don’t), but the pattern of national media attention to the U.S. Senate race is now clear, with a four-page spread on Democratic candidate Harold Ford Jr. in the current Time Magazine.

Written by the magazine’s top-gun political reporter Karen Tumulty, the article may safely be regarded as a prototype for multitudinous coverage to come. It focuses on Ford as both a central figure in national Democrats’ hopes of reclaiming a Senate majority this year and on his atypically conservative persona. And it deals in great detail with his star quality.

Republican opponent Bob Corker, who won last week’s Republican primary handily against two name opponents, gets three paragraphs late in the lengthy story and is treated more or less as a foil for Ford. Look for more of the same elsewhere.

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An unusual role was played in the August 3rd election by a new element on the local media scene — the fraternity of bloggers, those diarist/pundit new-media types whose (nominally, and most often actually) independent views on politics have become required reading for representatives of the old media.

Though he went on one of his periodic siestas late in the campaign season, libertarian/conservative blogger Mike Hollihan (halfbakered.blogspot.com) rebounded close to Election Day long enough to post a few candidate endorsements and to pick an ideological quarrel or two with a group of liberal bloggers with whom he normally stays friendly.

That group — some connected with collective sites like The Flypaper Theory (thepeskyfly.blogspot.com) and The ’Cue (beerisbetter.blogspot.com) and some operating independently — acted more or less in concert by way of advancing their positions and favored candidates.

When 9th District congressional candidate Steve Cohen came under attack from his opponents (as perceived frontrunners most often do), this group of bloggers, operating with monikers like Wintermute, Freedonian, Left-wing Cracker, West Tennessee Liberal, and The Polar Donkey, came to his defense with rhetoric, research, and occasional hard-news nuggets to redress the balance.

That brought an organized counter-attack from other activists via the Internet. Various principals at Emily’s List, the national women’s lobby that supported Cohen opponent Nikki Tinker, monitored the local blogs carefully and often, as “hit” lists (records of Web visitations) made clear. That resulted in a barrage of  “troll” comments (organized retorts) on the liberal Web sites.

Example: “Have you had the courage to ask Ms. Tinker out on a date? I know that all of these attacks stem from a repressed longing to stroke her cheek and plant a sweet kiss on her lips. Ms. Tinker is as beautiful as she is genuine and committed to the people of the 9th District….”

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Cohen’s victory in the 15-strong Democratic primary necessarily led local political observers to speculate on what comes next — immediately and down the line.

First things first: There remains an element of uncertainty in the general election, caused primarily by the presence on the November 7th general-election ballot, alongside Cohen and Republican Mark White, of independent congressional candidate Jake Ford. Opinions differ widely as to whether Ford, brother of outgoing congressman and Senate candidate Harold Ford, can mount a viable race.

It depends largely on the degree of support he might get from his father, former congressman Harold Ford Sr., now a resident of Florida, where he operates a blue-chip political consultancy, but still a player in local politics when he wants to be. The Senate race of Congressman Ford, who for obvious reasons of Democratic unity will be under great pressure to support and endorse Cohen, would be impacted whichever way it plays.

This may or may not be a clue: Joe Ford Jr., first cousin to both Jake Ford and Harold Ford Jr., and third-place finisher in the 9th District Democratic primary, has already endorsed Cohen.

And what happens in 2008? Joe Ford Jr. may be back for a reprise, Nikki Tinker could take another run, and conceivably so might Ed Stanton Jr. Cohen himself, if elected, might cast his eyes toward the Senate seat now held by Republican Lamar Alexander.

Most likely, though, he’ll run for reelection — and will, you may be sure, have done everything possible to consolidate his position in Memphis’ African-American community — where public support from past and present public figures like Melvin Burgess, John DeBerry, Willie Henry, and Minerva Johnican has already proved invaluable.

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The Flyer has learned that local Democratic Party chairman Matt Kuhn will face opposition to reelection from lawyer Jay Bailey at this week’s regular Democratic committee meeting.


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