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VOL. 125 | NO. 135 | Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Herenton Says Obama Endorsement Shows Cohen Campaign 'Desperate'

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton says a presidential endorsement of Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen shows how desperate the Cohen campaign is.

Herenton responded at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in South Memphis to word earlier Tuesday that President Barack Obama has endorsed Cohen, the incumbent, in the Aug. 5 primary.

“Congressman Cohen is a proven leader in the United States Congress and a strong voice for Tennessee,” reads Obama’s statement, distributed by the Cohen camp. “Together, we passed historic health care reform, and together we’re continuing the fight to renew our economy and bring jobs back to the American people. I am proud to stand with Steve and support his re-election to Congress.”

The White House endorsement touched off a political exchange between the two camps in what is traditionally the part of the campaign season in which endorsements are rolled out.

Early voting begins Friday.

“I admire our president,” Herenton began. “I love our president.”

But Herenton said Obama isn’t familiar with Memphis politics, is suffering in popularity polls and was probably pushed hard by the Cohen campaign for the endorsement. Cohen was an early supporter of Obama in the 2008 presidential election when Hillary Clinton was still a contender for the nomination.

“There’s a bigger agenda. I understand it,” Herenton said. “The president appreciates loyalty. I appreciate loyalty. Cohen has been loyal to the Democratic agenda. … I’m not as to the left as Steve Cohen. I’m more moderate and to the middle.”

Herenton supported Clinton in the 2008 primaries, but said he voted for Obama in the general election.

“All we’re trying to do, Mr. President, is get what you already got in Chicago,” Herenton said at one point, noting Chicago has African-American members of Congress and Illinois has a black senator. “Mr. Obama’s got to look long and hard to even see where Memphis is. … I’m sure Cohen was wearing them out.”

Obama, a Democrat, has chosen sides in a Democratic primary – something presidents and governors generally avoid especially in races involving the legislative branches they each have to work with. Herenton said the endorsement is “highly unusual.”

“They now know what you and I know,” Herenton said referring to the Cohen campaign. “We already know that we’re going to get 80 percent of the African-American vote. We’ll get a minimum of 5 percent of the white vote. … They know the numbers. We are ahead. We are going to win.”

In the 2007 campaign, Obama also took an extraordinary step in condemning television ads run by Cohen’s Democratic primary challenger Nikki Tinker that linked Cohen to the Ku Klux Klan.

“I’ve never been impressed by endorsements. I’ve never sought them out,” Herenton said.

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