Obama Wades Into Ugly Tennessee House Primary

By Jennifer Parker

Aug 7, 2008 1:21pm

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, waded into the ugly politics being waged in today’s Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District’s Democratic primary.

“These incendiary and personal attacks have no place in our politics," Obama said in a statement, "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."

Interestingly, Obama was referring to attacks being waged against the white incumbent, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., by an African-American challenger, corporate attorney Nikki Tinker.

Tinker has been accused of playing some of the more ugly racial politics of the campaign season.

She put the image of a Klansman standing before a burning cross in a TV ad to drive home the point that Cohen, as a member of the downtown development board in 2005, opposed renaming a park that is named for Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder of the Ku Klux Klan. (Watch the ad HERE.)

But what aroused the condemnation of Sen. Obama is Tinker’s new TV ad that not-so-subtly points out that Cohen is Jewish.

The ad states that Cohen has voted against allowing children to pray in schools "while he’s in OUR churches slapping hands and tapping his feet."

"Our" churches?

Even EMILY’s List, which is backing Tinker, condemned the ad. "We were shocked to see the recent ads run by the Nikki Tinker for Congress campaign. We believe the ads are offensive and divisive," said Ellen Malcolm, the group’s director. "EMILY’s List does not condone or support these types of attacks."

The ad comes on the heels of an anti-Semitic flier being distributed by a local black minister asking “Why do Steve Cohen and the Jews Hate Jesus?”

The Memphis Commercial Appeal editorial board questioned why Tinker wouldn’t condemn the flier.

Cohen won election in 2006 to the former congressional seat of Rep. Harold Ford, Jr., D-Tenn., which is 60 percent African-American, by garnering a 30 percent plurality in a race where four other black candidates, including Tinker, split the black vote among them.

Cohen tried to join the Congressional Black Caucus to no avail. Only three members of the 42-member Congressional Black caucus — Reps. John Conyers of Michigan, Jesse Jackson, Jr. of Illinois, and Charlie Rangel of New York — have endorsed Cohen.

- jpt

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