The most interesting race ’round these parts has got to be the one for the 9th Congressional District. With a voting population that is 70 per cent black, to say that the 9th has been a Democrat stronghold for quite some time would be a massive understatement. This is the seat left open by Harold Ford, Jr., who is leaving the small-time House behind in a bold grab for the Senate.

You’d think the Democrat primary would have decided this race, but the party was fragmented and had 15 candidates vying to take Harold’s spot (one actually withdrew but his name was still on the ballot and he garnered almost 700 votes).

According to Thadeous Mathews, Ford’s chosen successor was Nikki Tinker, a pretty Georgia lawyer — but even with backing from Junior she only came in second with a mere 25% of the vote (even though she was the best fundraiser, putting together an incredible half million dollar warchest). Another Ford, Joe Ford Jr. (who didn’t even live in the district), was a distant third — proving once again that the Ford name will get votes for even the most unqualified of candidates.

When the votes where counted the black community was shocked and outraged when a white man, Steve Cohen, received over 23 thousand votes (31%) to coast to victory. And with Republican Mark White, a white businessman, easily winning the Republican primary, some 100 thousand blacks will have to choose between two white men in November.

Imagine that, a white man representing the voters of the district first taken by white-hating Harold Ford Sr. and which has been controlled by one Harold Ford or another for 36 years. [And here I am with egg on my face because I backed Derrick Bennet in the Republican primary, thinking that a white man couldn’t win in that district. How wrong was I?]

But a Commercial Appeal analysis shows that while Cohen easily won in the few predominantly white districts, he didn’t fair so well among the black population:

Steve Cohen
Nikki Tinker
Joe Ford Jr.
Ed Stanton
Julian Bolton
Predominantly white precincts
81.58%
5.53%
1.26%
5.29%
2.07%
Predominantly black precincts
17.56%
28.11%
18.81%
8.72%
12.87%

Worse yet, Cohen is Jewish. And in spite of the fact that the Jewish community has been one of the strongest supporters of black civil rights from the very beginning, blacks just don’t seem to like Jews — much less vote for them.

But the real issue is even more fundamental: Cohen simply does not represent the beliefs of religious black community. He was one of the forces behind the lottery. He is fervently pro-choice. He has said that the civil rights movement of the 21st century is gay rights. He wrote a bill to legalize drugs in Tennessee.

And if the black ministers get together and oppose you in a district like the 9th, your campaign is in trouble. Believe it.

So the question becomes, if a single black alternative candidate steps up (instead of 14) and mounts an intensive campaign, can he (or she) be successful and keep the district in the hands of the black/Christian community?

That is a question that has attracted the interest of more than one wanna-be politician. Take Jake Ford, one of Harold Ford Sr.’s son. Even though the Fords have been in some highly-visible scandals recently (John Ford  was one of the original arrestees caught up in Tennessee Waltz, and Ophelia Ford’s last-minute miracle win was overturned by the Tennessee Senate because dead people voted), scandal is nothing new to the Ford family and the Ford name still carries a lot of clout in this town.

Jake shrewdly sat out of the crowded primary in order to mount a campaign for the November ballot as “a lifelong Democrat running as an Independent” — and he is Jake Ford yard sign taken 30 August in Memphiscertain to be well financed. The rather large yard sign pictured at right was spotted on the 29th of August, one of the first to go up for the final fall campaign season. (The others were just signs that never came down after the primary, a crime with no punishment in Tennessee.)

Furthermore, the 9th contains the area that turned out for white Republican business man Terry Rolland in his upset victory (if you don’t count the cemetery and penitentiary votes) over Ophelia Ford for the Tennessee Senate. Many of those that were willing to cross party lines once may very well be willing to do so again.

Suddenly, a win by a Republican in District 9 seems achievable. Will the two Democrats split enough of the vote to allow Republican Mark White to win? Just how much will White have to improve on his 17% of the black vote in order to win? The next few weeks promise to be interesting.

Then there’s the possible return of Nikki Tinker, who is rumored to be considering a write-in campaign. If true, she will further splinter the black vote. There are many, many citizens of the 9th that are sick and tired of the Ford family, and Tinker will offer an alternative to the white Jewish Democrat and the white Republican businessman. If she has retained ties to the purse strings that financed her primary, she could be a real contender.

As I said, the race for District 9 will be interesting.

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