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VOL. 125 | NO. 120 | Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cohen, Herenton Hit Campaign Trail on Separate Tracks

By Bill Dries

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In a Raleigh pizza parlor last week, Willie Herenton was in classroom mode as he talked to a group of 50 members of a Frayser-Raleigh civic group.

“Somebody answer me. We’re in school here tonight,” he said to the group “The Voice of Raleigh and Frayser” – the latest stop in Herenton’s challenge of Democratic congressional incumbent Steve Cohen in the Aug. 5 primaries.

“Is there anybody here who doesn’t believe in the Constitution of the United States?” Herenton began as he hammered away at his campaign’s central theme – there should be an African-American congressman in the state’s delegation to Washington. “Is there anybody in here who does not believe in a representative form of government? So all of you believe as I do?

“Willie Herenton didn’t make this picture,” he continued as he held out a copy of the campaign flyer that is going to 100,000 voters by direct mail from the Herenton campaign. It shows the state’s nine congressional representatives and two senators – all white, and with the exception of 7th District Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, all male.

Some in the audience were enthusiastically with Herenton. But others in the audience clearly didn’t care for the prodding.

“Harold Ford Jr. did not represent my views and he was black. You support Lamar Alexander,” said Lexie Carter, a member of the local Democratic executive committee, at one point. “He fights everything that the President comes out with. … I can’t kind of fit that in my head.”

“I wish you would look at me broader than that,” Herenton responded. “I’m that type of Democrat. I can cross party lines. But I hope you would support me because of having friends that are Republican to help us improve America. … Let me get back on this picture.”

Meanwhile, Cohen opened his Whitehaven campaign headquarters beneath a tent on the Whitehaven Plaza parking lot.

A crowd of 150 fanned themselves and soaked up bottled water as Cohen bounced along with a hip hop group singing a hip hop-themed Cohen campaign ditty.

The Rev. Rosalind Nichols began the program by noting that she ministers to rape victims and loves dogs.

”I want my congressman to give a damn about both,” she said referring to Herenton earlier this month repeatedly saying he wasn’t concerned about problems in the management of the city’s animal shelter or the rape crisis center while mayor.

Cohen touted the endorsement of former Congressman Harold Ford Sr. The audience included such local civil rights icons as former NAACP leader Maxine Smith and retired Judge Russell Sugarmon.

Cohen made few references to Herenton – other than by saying he is not a quitter – a reference to Herenton’s resignation as mayor last July.

“I always say that elections are referendums on the incumbent. And it doesn’t really make any difference who the opponent is going to be,” Cohen told reporters.

Asked about Herenton’s “just one” campaign theme, though, Cohen said the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president has undercut Herenton’s point.

“I think his election really erases a lot of the idea for the need for that type of representation,” Cohen said. “Things have changed.”

Neither Cohen nor Herenton are talking as much as political pundits are about a recent independent poll showing Cohen with a huge margin of support over Herenton.

Herenton has said his supporters who gave him a string of five election victories as mayor have never shown up in such polls.

Cohen said he has his own poll numbers.

“They are very internal. They’re great news but we didn’t want to share them. Let’s just say John Bakke is not far from right,” he said referring to the pollster.

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