Puneet Varma

Tennessee's 9th congressional district

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Population (2000)  632,143
Cook PVI  D+22
Median income  33,806
Tennessee's 9th congressional district
Current Representative  Steve Cohen (D–Memphis)
Ethnicity  36.1% White 59.7% Black 1.5% Asian 3.0% Hispanic 0.2% Native American 0.3% other

Tennessee s 9th congressional district

The 9th Congressional District of Tennessee is a Congressional district in southwestern Tennessee. The district is located entirely within Shelby County, and includes most of the city of Memphis. It is the state's only district located entirely in one county, as well as the state's only African-American-majority district.


Tennessee had at least nine congressional districts from 1825 to 1973, but was cut down to eight districts as a result of the 1970 United States Census, due to population growth below the national average. However, Tennessee rebounded to nine districts after the 1980 Census. At this time, most of the old 8th District was redrawn as a black-majority district, and combined with small portions of the former 6th and 7th districts to form the new 9th District. The district's configuration has remained more or less the same ever since. Most of the district's current territory had previously been numbered as the 9th from 1953 to 1973.

It is one of the safest seats in the nation for the Democratic Party, and has not been seriously contested by a Republican in its current configuration. Generally, the 9th is one of two seats in Tennessee that are not seriously contested by Republicans (the other being the 5th district).

This was not always so, however, particularly in the 1960s and early 1970s, when Memphis experienced the most intense period of the Civil Rights movement. Before then, traditional Southern conservative Democrats, in later generations associated with mayor E. H. Crump, held the seat. However, the Democrats' increasing support for civil rights resulted in a massive crossover of conservative white Democrats to the Republicans. In 1962, for instance, the district's longtime incumbent, Clifford Davis, nearly lost his seat only two years after being unopposed for reelection. In 1964, Davis was defeated by George W. Grider in the Democratic primary, but he himself won by only five points in November. Finally, in 1966, strongly conservative Republican Dan Kuykendall defeated Grider and became the first Republican to represent a West Tennessee district since 1883.

The racial strife of the period culminated in a municipal sanitation workers' strike, one that brought Martin Luther King, Jr. to the city, only to meet his demise by an assassin's bullet in April 1968. The animosities culminated in a near-violent reaction to a busing order in early 1973. However, that controversy alone prompted many white families to leave the city in favor of suburban Shelby and Fayette counties and Desoto County, Mississippi, across the state line. In addition, redistricting after the 1970 census and massive voter registration added a larger number of eligible African-Americans than had previously been in the district. This suddenly depleted much of Kuykendall's base constituency, which consisted of a coalition of middle-to-upper-class supporters of Richard Nixon, Howard Baker, and Memphis mayor Henry Loeb, and working-class admirers of the likes of George Wallace, Barry Goldwater, and Mississippi governors Ross Barnett and John Bell Williams.

The next year, many of those whites still left in the city took umbrage at the incumbent's defense of Nixon during the Watergate scandal. Kuykendall was one of the few Republicans who stood by Nixon until the president's resignation from office. In the meantime, exponential numbers of African-Americans began voting and forming political coalitions, led in many cases by prominent figures in the 1968 sanitation strike, to obtain local and state offices as Democrats. These two factors set the stage for the historic victory by Harold Ford, Sr. in 1974 over the Republican incumbent to become Tennessee's first black U.S. representative. The 1980s round of redistricting made the district majority-black, solidifying the Democrats' hold on the seat.

Whatever Republican strength is left in the 9th centers in three areas: 1) the affluent neighborhoods near and to the east of Interstate 240's eastern rim; 2) scattered white-majority precincts in the far southern and southeastern neighborhoods of the city of Memphis, near the Mississippi state line; and 3) the town of Collierville. However, they are always swamped at the ballot box by the African-American majority of the city's population, along with a growing number of liberal whites in neighborhoods such as Midtown and Cooper-Young. The latter constituency is only one of two of its kind in the entire state, the other being a (much larger) coalition of liberal, well-educated, middle-to-upper-income professionals and employees of higher education and the music industry who live in Nashville.

The district is currently represented by Democrat Steve Cohen, who was elected to succeed Harold Ford, Jr. in November 2006. Cohen is the first white Democrat to represent a significant portion of Memphis since Grider's defeat in 1966. Cohen, however, holds many positions which are significantly to the left of those espoused by the younger Ford.

2006 election

When Harold Ford, Jr. decided to give up the 9th district seat in favor of running for the Senate, he triggered a free-for-all for his congressional seat. This was in marked contrast to the retirement of his father, 11-term incumbent Harold Ford, Sr. in 1996, when the primary race—and for all practical purposes, the election—ended as soon as Harold, Jr. announced his candidacy.

By the time filing closed on April 6, 21 candidates—15 Democrats and six Republicans—had entered the primary contest. Interest was particularly high among Democrats, given the district's heavy Democratic tilt. On August 3, 2006, State Senator Steve Cohen won the Democratic primary.

Cohen faced Republican Mark White and independent Jake Ford in the general election in November. Jake is the younger brother of Harold Ford Jr., and announced he would serve as a Democrat if elected. While Cohen was heavily favored in November, Jake Ford was considered a wild card in the race, given his family's long prominence in the area.

On October 8, 2006, Cohen, Ford, and White participated in a televised debate in Memphis. Among other topics, issues discussed included Iraq, medical marijuana, education, and the Tennessee Marriage Protection Amendment. Ford attacked Cohen's record in the State Senate, including his opposition to the Marriage Protection Amendment, support for medical marijuana, and his voting attendance record. Cohen responded by standing by his public record, pointing out Ford's lack of experience in public office, and indicating that Ford had been to jail and had dropped out of high school.

Cohen defeated Ford and White by a significant margin, receiving 60 percent of the vote to Ford's 22 percent and White's 18 percent.

Cohen is the first-ever Jewish congressman from Tennessee, as well as the first white Democrat to represent a significant portion of Memphis since Grider's defeat in 1966.


Tennessee's 9th congressional district Wikipedia

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