Taking Down Tinker 

In Tennessee's 9th District, the challenger lost an election and gained a reputation.

What's Nikki Tinker going to do now that she's a two-time loser with a national reputation for low-road politics? Even the functionaries at Emily's List, the pro-choice feminist PAC that heavily funded both of the corporate attorney's congressional runs, publicly rebuked their candidate for running commercials odious enough to attract international attention.

"I've just got to put my faith in God," Tinker told a restless gaggle of reporters who crowded around her when she finally arrived, late, to her own unhappy "victory" party at Ground Zero last Thursday night. She reminded the media that she was only 37, and that, if the Lord saw fit, "Tinker time" could come again.

"I'm just a child of God," she said, echoing verbatim the things she said after her last, less devastating defeat in 2006 to Steve Cohen, who ran as the incumbent congressman this year. "You all know how strong my faith is."

But God was nowhere to be found at that party. Even Morgan Freeman, the club's Tinker-supporting superstar owner, who did play God in the film Bruce Almighty, was absent, having sustained injuries in a recent automobile accident.

It's tempting to describe the mood at Ground Zero as grim from the outset, but it was even worse. The mood was nonexistent. For most of the evening, there was no candidate in the house and not many supporters waiting on her arrival. The blues band on stage played "Come On In My Kitchen" to a mix of bored reporters with nothing to talk about and tourists who'd stopped in for ribs.

Even the sparse snack table went untouched until 9:40 p.m., when hungry speculators began to wonder if Tinker was going to be a no-show — because the candidate hadn't merely lost an election, she'd run a campaign based almost solely on race and religion, and she had been definitively crushed by an opponent she'd attempted — bizarrely — to tar as both a Jewish anti-Christian and KKK-friendly.

Throughout the evening, a small cluster of well-wishers — Judge D'Army Bailey (sipping chocolate martinis and talking about his book deal) and Tinker's boss, Pinnacle Airlines CEO Phil Trenary (describing himself as a "big Democrat") — would cluster around a television on the club's northeast wall to tut-tut over the returns.

"It's a rout," one man of Armenian descent grumbled into his cell phone. "The race isn't even competitive."

He was flanked by two other men of Armenian heritage who had thrown their support behind Tinker, because Cohen, who has long criticized America's invasion of Iraq, refused to support a measure asking Turkey to acknowledge the post-World War I era Armenian genocide. Peter Musurlian, the West Coast filmmaker whom Cohen physically removed from his home during a press conference the day before was among them.

"I filed charges against Cohen today," said Musurlian, who also has been identified as a "Republican operative" by the website MyDD.

"He's not going to like my documentary very much," the filmmaker said, scratching his head and voicing his astonishment that Tinker could have been beaten so badly.

Tinker could have been a contender, some thought. But the Alabama native, who'd barely closed her suitcase before running for Congress in Tennessee two years ago, made a mistake this time in trying to paint Cohen, a lifelong Memphian, as some kind of outsider.

Her chances evaporated completely 48 hours before the election, after her campaign released a commercial promoting the false perception that prayer isn't allowed in Tennessee schools and implying that former state senator Cohen, a Jew, was to blame.

The ad's content jibed too well with some harsh anti-Semitic leaflets distributed by the Rev. George Brooks, a pro-Tinker propagandist from Murfreesboro, and prompted Keith Olbermann, MSNBC's acerbic host of Countdown, to name Tinker "The Worst Person in the World."

Shortly thereafter, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama expressed his disapproval, and Tinker's friend and onetime employer, former Congressman Harold Ford Jr., followed suit.

It was nearly 10 p.m. when Tinker finally arrived at her party. She hugged a few people, supplied the media with a variety of faith-centric non-answers to questions, and claimed no knowledge of Obama's comments. She never officially addressed the crowd, and, as soon as she left, an event that had never begun was over.

Chris Davis is a Flyer staff writer.

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