Obama wades into Black-Jewish tensions in Memphis


Barack Obama today condemned a television advertisement that portrayed Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) as an outsider because of his Judaism, but Cohen’s campaign manager said he didn’t think the statement by the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee would make much of a difference as voters go to the polls today.

“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.”

Obama was referring to an ad run this week by Nikki Tinker, the African-American challenger to Cohen in the Memphis district. It charged that while Cohen visits “our churches, clapping his hands and tapping his feet … he’s the only senator who thought our kids shouldn’t be allowed to pray in school,” referring to a 1997 vote Cohen made as a state senator. The ad concluded with the phrase “sometimes apologies just aren’t enough,” a reference to a resolution Cohen sponsored in the House of Representatives apologizing for slavery and the Jim Crow era which passed by voice vote last month. That ad followed a spot that began airing Friday which attacked the one-term incumbent for opposing the removal of a statue of a Klu Klux Klan leader from a Memphis park.

But Cohen campaign manager Jerry Austin said the Obama statement is “not going to affect” the race, because most voters either had already voted by the time it was released or are unlikely to hear about it before the polls close at 7 p.m.

Austin also noted that the Obama statement was not an endorsement and didn’t even specifically mention Cohen’s name.

“We’re going to win without any of this,” said Austin.

Cohen represents a majority-African-American district in Memphis, the area formerly represented by former Reps. Harold Ford Jr. and his father, Harold Ford Sr. He was a supporter of Obama during the primary and spoke on the senator’s behalf at a election panel at the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference last spring.

The prayer ad also was condemned by Emily’s List, an organization which raises money for female candidates and had backed Tinker – although visitors to the group’s Web site on Thursday could still donate money to her campaign. In addition, Tinker was named “Worst Person in the World” by Keith Olbermann on Wednesday evening.

The Tinker campaign has since pulled the spot from YouTube.

The ad follows literature that was distributed in the district earlier this year by a Tinker supporter and minister which read “Cohen and the Jews HATE Jesus” and urged the defeat of an “opponent of Chist and Christianity.” Similar flyers from the same minister have circulated in the last few weeks.

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