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August 07, 2008

Cohen handily defeats Tinker

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) overwhelmingly defeated attorney Nikki Tinker in a racially charged Democratic primary in Memphis that received national attention.

With 89 percent of precincts reporting, Cohen leads Tinker by a 60-point margin — 79 percent to 19 percent. The AP has called the race for Cohen.

Entering the race, Cohen faced the challenge of being the only white congressman representing a majority African-American congressional district. He only won in 2006 with a 31 percent plurality, aided by a crowded field of African-American candidates splitting the black vote.

And Tinker, who is black, sought to make Cohen’s race and religion (he’s Jewish) a central part of her candidacy, airing two ads in the final week questioning his racial tolerance and religious convictions.

One ad featured Cohen alongside a hooded Klansman, criticizing him for voting against removing a statue of Klan founder Nathaniel Bedford Forrest from a local park.

A second ad rebuked the Jewish congressman for "praying in our churches" while casting a vote that opposed prayer in schools.

But Cohen’s sizable victory suggests that Memphis voters, both black and white, resoundingly rejected Tinker’s campaign tactics.

Tinker’s campaign drew condemnation from several leading Democratic figures. Her most high-profile supporter, the feminist group EMILY’s List, called the ads “offensive and divisive.” Barack Obama also waded into the primary, calling her campaign tactics “incendiary.”

UPDATE: The Commercial Appeal reports that even Cohen — who had been predicting victory all along — was pleasantly surprised at the magnitude of his victory.

Earlier this evening, Cohen was in the presidential suite at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn with reporters, sipping a glass of red wine and marveling at the early voting results. The congressman said nobody in his office pool could have predicted more than 80 percent. He said he got a feeling today he might receive 70 percent and told that to Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel.

“It says that we have come a long, long way and that the people who were counting on racial voting to prevail are thinking of a Memphis that doesn’t exist anymore,” Cohen said. “The people of Memphis are more sophisticated voters that deal with issues and someone’s record and not simply race. And I think it’s a story of America, because I know of no other place in America where there would be such a vote.”