America's newly empowered liberal activists, still psyched by Barack Obama's election, now are trying to flex their muscles in Nashville of all places. Their goal? Unseating that dastardly Blue Dog Democrat Jim Cooper as punishment for opposing their brand of health care reform.The director of a new national political action committee named Accountability Now—a creation of MoveOn, the liberal blog Firedoglake and others—has parachuted into Nashville to try to recruit a challenger for the congressman in the 2010 Democratic primary.
"Jim Cooper's really the No. 1 target we have in the country right now," declared Ben Tribbett, the PAC's director, during an appearance on Liberadio(!).
Tribbett pointed to a poll by another liberal blog, Daily Kos, purporting to show that Cooper is ignoring the wishes of his constituents on health-care reform and vulnerable to a re-election challenge from the left.
According to the Daily Kos survey, which the blog conducted in association with the independent polling firm Research 2000, 61 percent of all Cooper's constituents and 80 percent of Democrats in his district favor creating a new public health insurance plan that anyone can purchase.
Although Cooper says he could vote for some form of a public health plan to compete with private insurance, he has outraged liberals by opposing their versions. Lately, Cooper has been touting membership-owned health co-ops as an alternative to a government-run public option.
"The incumbent's not going to come around," Tribbett said. "He's been leading the fight against this for years.... There's nothing in his record and there's nothing that he's said recently that would suggest that he's open to any solution that can pass the House of Representatives, which means he's not open to a solution. If he's just open to solutions that can't pass the House, then he's just playing games with his constituents."
Writing on the Salon website last week, another founder of Accountability Now, Glenn Greenwald, assailed Cooper as "seemingly devoted to serving the large corporate interests that fill his [campaign] coffers."
Greenwald said Cooper is "illustrative of everything rotted about both Washington and congressional Democrats." Specifically, he also slapped Cooper for voting for renewing the Patriot Act, for warrantless eavesdropping, against timetables for withdrawing from Iraq and for funding the war without conditions.
Markos Moulitsas, a.k.a. Kos, pounds on Cooper regularly on his popular blog: "Cooper has spent so many years in Congress without being accountable that he's forgotten how to represent his constituents. He has a choice ahead of him—continue representing the interests of his insurance company buddies or those of the people who elect him."
Asked to respond, Cooper tells the Scene, "I don't have to respond to them if they don't live here. I respond to my constituents. I respond to people who live here."
"This shows they don't know me," he adds. "I'm a nerd. What I respond to is substance [not political threats]. I'm probably too boring for them to fool with."
In his Salon column, Greenwald went so far as to claim Accountability Now has found "several highly promising, vibrant and credible potential challengers." He said the PAC "expects to have an announcement soon" about who will challenge Cooper.
But prominent Nashville Democrats contacted by the Scene say Cooper would be almost impossible to defeat and unanimously predict no credible candidate will emerge.
The Scene contacted several of the people who are on the usual insider lists of ambitious Nashville politicians, and none admits to thinking at the moment about running against Cooper.
Metro Council member Jerry Maynard's name is the hottest on the grapevine. He plays it cagey, refusing to rule out becoming a candidate but saying, "There are no thoughts right now on my mind to run for Congress."
The task of challenging Cooper is so daunting, Democrats wonder whether Accountability Now is really trying to find a candidate. The PAC actually might be trying to bluff Cooper into changing his position on health care reform. State Democratic Party chairman Chip Forrester says he didn't even know Accountability Now was in town until he heard Tribbett on the radio.
"I think it's all thunder and noise," Metro Council member Jason Holleman says.
According to these Democrats, Cooper remains widely popular in this district. Special interests would pour cash into his campaign and deny it to his opponent. The losing challenger would immediately become a political leper—persona non grata among Democrats in Nashville.
Holleman sometimes is mentioned as a possible congressional candidate should Cooper ever decide not to run again. But he says he's not been contacted by Accountability Now and wouldn't consider challenging Cooper.
"I'm probably not going to run for Congress or run my car into a brick wall anytime soon," he deadpans.
Party veterans are snorting at the naïveté of the liberals threatening Cooper. One Democrat who admits to contact with Accountability Now insists on anonymity partly out of fear of upsetting Cooper. Such a campaign would be foolish, according to this person, who adds in an understatement: "There's a lot of downside."
Forrester says he wishes Accountability Now would help Tennessee Democrats with more important tasks. "Here's my message to them: These resources that you have are better spent in taking back the state House and running against right-wing nutjobs. We've got plenty of them in Tennessee. If they've got a problem with anybody, it ought to be them."
Ramsey never lets facts get in the way of his Republican talking points.
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