The race for Memphis' 9th District congressional seat, now held by first-term Democrat Steve Cohen, was always destined to be closely watched, inasmuch as it pitted Cohen against Nikki Tinker, the runner-up in the 2006 Democratic primary.
There are obvious contrasts between Cohen and Tinker in gender, race (he's white, she's black), religion (he's Jewish, she's Christian), and, not least, political ideology, an area where Cohen's legislative record and several decades' worth of outspokenness are counterpointed by what is, relatively speaking, Tinker's blank slate.
Moreover, both those campaign efforts are expected to be well-funded, and Cohen has attracted an unusual degree of national attention during his first term — much, but not all, of it for his close attention to matters affecting his predominantly African-American constituency.
For her part, corporate attorney Tinker, who opened her Elvis Presley Boulevard headquarters last weekend, has shown conspicuous determination in mounting a second run for Congress. And, though she has (to put it mildly) been unspecific about issues as such, she is pitching broad campaign themes — for education and economic development and against crime — aimed squarely at the district's black majority.
But hold everything! As of Monday, this established pas de deux took on a third member, whose volatile presence, personal history, and family name seemed likely to turn what had been a tidy ballet into a free-for-all.
Jake Ford, second son of one former District 9 congressman, Harold Ford Sr., and brother of another, Harold Ford Jr., picked up a petition at the Election Commission Monday to run for the 9th District seat.
At first, Ford appeared ready to run as a Democrat, squaring off against Cohen, Tinker, and several other less ballyhooed figures in the party's August 7th primary. But hold everything! Ford returned his Democratic petition on Tuesday, swapped it for an independent candidacy (like the one he ran in 2006), and filed it later on Tuesday. That means Cohen (or Tinker) will have to tangle with him after the ordeal of a basically one-on-one primary.
The Cohen-Tinker or B.J. (Before Jake) component of the race went this way last week: The congressman got a boost from the state AFL-CIO, which formally endorsed him. Tinker, who in 2006 had the support of Emily's List, an organization which raises money for pro-choice female candidates, acknowledged that she hadn't yet been endorsed by the group for her 2008 campaign but said she hoped to be so favored.
Both Cohen and Tinker support the presidential candidacy of Illinois senator Barack Obama. Cohen, who met with Obama in Washington last week and says he discussed crime and other issues with the senator, formally endorsed Obama before the Tennessee primary on Super Tuesday on February 5th.
Tinker pointed out in an interview after her headquarters opening on Saturday that she, too, could be reckoned as an Obama supporter: "A lot of people who work for me are big on Obama's team, and I've been a Barack Obama supporter since way back," she said.
Tinker said she hadn't formally endorsed the senator because she wasn't an elected official. "But people close to me knew that's where I was."
In the interview, Tinker disclaimed any intention of making Cohen an issue in her campaign, but in her earlier remarks to supporters at the headquarters, she seemed to be indulging in a swipe at the congressman, who has been a conspicuous presence at community events: "Simply because somebody shows up at your gate and eats your food and drinks your wine and reads off a proclamation that was prepared by their clerk and has a photo opportunity does not make them a good elected official," she said.
Others who have drawn petitions as Democrats are James Gregory, Perry Steele, M. LaTroy Williams, and Isaac Richmond.