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The future of the Democratic Party in Tennessee looks dark and grim, according to outgoing Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN).
Cooper’s comments came during an interview with his local newspaper, the Nashville Scene, published on Tuesday. Cooper expressed concerns during the interview that the Democrats in Tennessee are “facing extinction.”
The most proximate cause pointed to for such pessimistic outlooks is the recent Republican redistricting of Tennessee, which is what directly led to Cooper’s retiring, since he no longer saw a path to victory in his new district makeup.
However, that doesn’t mean that redistricting is solely to blame. Cooper seemed to note that the historical trend was pointing towards oblivion for the Democrats in the Volunteer State, and sadly declaimed the lack of any real strategy by Democrats to make any headway in rural voters.
“As usual, Democrats are not alert to future dangers. The biggest danger we face in an off-year election after we won the White House is the 100-year trend toward the other party. Redistricting is small potatoes compared to that historical trend,” he said.
“It’s important to be in communication with your constituents, not to be their boss. You’re their representative. We’ve got to get this formula right. The Democratic Party in Tennessee is basically facing extinction,” Cooper continued.
“We’ve been on a long downhill slide for a long time. Tennessee has fewer statewide elected offices than I think any other state, and now the only path upward will be through Memphis, which is not nearly as successful as Nashville. That fits Republican strategy very well. Their intent is to ghettoize the state Democratic Party,” he claimed.
The Scene asked Cooper if he thought that, in the future, Democrats would be more competitive in local elections, but the representative was gloomy, saying that while he hoped this would be the case, “hope is not a strategy.”
“[The Democrats’] strategy is blind hope. Many of the folks you’re probably listening to have probably never visited these counties. They’re not kin to these folks. Their best friends don’t live out there. I had the advantage of being born in Nashville but raised in Shelbyville,” Cooper continued.
While Cooper may soon no longer hold public office, he has been insistent that he will continue to try to help Democrats as best he is can while attending to his own interests and needs:
“I always want to be available and helpful, but I plan on getting a job and being a productive citizen. It can’t be handed to you. You’ve got to study it and work at it and be good at it. And then we can put on some finishing touches. There are many people today who want this stuff handed to them, and life doesn’t work like that. It’s important to make money. It’s important to be productive. It’s important to pay taxes. Work organizes life. I plan on working until the day I die because work is fun, work is interesting, work is important,” he contended.
Cooper has been known for his conflict with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which consistently has little to no support in rural America. Only “Blue Dog” Democrats, of the more moderate or even conservative strain, seem to carry any credibility in those parts of the country, as seen in the ability of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) to defy the entire party and yet still count on domestic support within his state.
A primary challenger to Cooper, Odessa Kelly, will instead be seeking his district in 2022. Kelly has endorsements from other Democrats, yet seems to be exactly what Cooper warned of, being entirely out of touch (particularly with his new, redrawn district) with Tennessee voters, and calling for violence against Republican lawmakers on social media, as Fox News reported.
The election for Cooper’s seat will occur in August, and given that the Democrats are advancing a candidate like Kelly, it seems no lessons have been learned from the experiences of the veteran representative.
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