TN-09: Cohen Has Big Lead on Herenton

Yacoubian Research for WMC-TV (4/23-27, likely voters):

Steve Cohen (D-inc): 65

Willie Herenton (D): 14

Unsure: 21

(MoE: ±5.2%)

Steve Cohen faces an unusual challenge: his Memphis-based D+23 seat is as safe as can be in the general election, but as a white guy representing a district that’s almost two-thirds African-American, he’s consistently vulnerable in the primary. (As you’ll remember, Cohen won a heated primary in 2008 against Nikki Tinker, although that race will be remembered more for its sliminess than a close margin, as Cohen won with 79%.) When five-term Memphis mayor Willie Herenton announced last week that he was “seriously evaluating” a primary challenge to Cohen, on its face, that seemed like about the biggest possible challenge Cohen could face.

A new poll commissioned by a Memphis TV affiliate, however, suggests that Herenton doesn’t make the transition from strong-on-paper to reality very well, as he loses to Cohen by a sweeping margin. Herenton, who’s been in office since 1991, has apparently had ample time for the citizens of Memphis to get sick of him. Herenton won his most recent election in 2007 with only 42% of the vote (following pre-election polling indicating only 20% support for his re-election). Herenton also announced his resignation in 2008 in order to jump over to running Memphis’s public schools, then promptly reversed himself and continued being mayor when that deal fell through. Herenton seems to be floundering around, looking for a mayoral exit strategy, and that perception must be even stronger within the city.

17 thoughts on “TN-09: Cohen Has Big Lead on Herenton”

  1. Once you’ve been in a local office where you make so many decisions that effect people’s everyday lives, you are bound to make so many enemies that it does often hurt your future political prospects.

    Steve Cohen has been a great representative as well.  There’s no logical reason to dump him.  

  2. 50 points is, whichever you look at it, a huge advantage.

    I’m not sure Steve Cohen really is vulnerable in the primary anymore. 80% of the Democratic base appears to like him, and there’s almost always 20% dissatisfied, no matter who the candidate is.

    Maybe if he hangs around another dozen years and stops paying attention to the district he’ll become vulnerable again. But I’d say he’s pretty strong right now and when he beats Herenton and the next black candidate who tries in 2012 just for the hell of it, he’ll probably be largely left alone.

  3. I love Steve Cohen, and I’ve got some thoughts on this.

    There’s always going to be a segment of his district that doesn’t think Cohen should represent it.  Racism, after all, is not something that anyone or any group of people is immune to, even if it does come out in different ways.  But Cohen’s managed to overcome it, and I think it illistrates a point I’ll repeat until I’m blue in the face.  Don’t take the votes of African-Americans for granted, no matter who you are or where you come from.  Nikki Tinker and now, presumably, Herenton, made the mistake of thinking that they could take up the black vote, not realizing that Cohen has made inroads into the African American community and apparently proven himself in that arena, and also that most of the people they were/are trying to reach are better people then them.  Assuming that the race or gender of a candidate automatically locks down that voting group is a dangerous mistake in politics, just ask John McCain and Sarah Palin.

    As for Herenton, the thing you have to understand is that he is the first black mayor in the city where King was shot, among other nasty racial injustices.  His election was a big thing and for a long time he managed to play his conflicts and criticisms successfully as white vs. black.  But chickens always come home to roost and his popularity has sagged greatly with the majority of the people of Memphis seeing him for what he is, a scandal plagued, overly combative, self-interested, demagogue whose time has passed.

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