Willie Herenton

*U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a white incumbent who represents a majority black district in Memphis, was officially endorsed by President Barack Obama on Tuesday in the primary — and it didn’t sit will with Cohen’s black opponent.

Willie Herenton, who will face off against Cohen in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary, called the endorsement a desperate political move by Cohen and said Obama doesn’t know the voters in their district.

Obama issued a statement backing Cohen for a third term in the House, calling him a proven leader.

“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,” Obama said. “I am proud to stand with Steve and support his re-election to Congress.”

 

Rep. Steve Cohen

Herenton, who served 18 years as Memphis’ first elected black mayor, said Cohen is concerned he’ll lose the black vote and pushed the Obama staff for an endorsement. He said Obama is disconnected from the district, which roughly follows the city borders, and slipping in popularity.

 

“Mr. Obama’s got to look hard and long to even know where Memphis, Tenn., is, OK?” Herenton said at a news conference.

“I’m going to always be respectful to the president,” Herenton added. “He doesn’t understand the aspirations of people in this community. He made a political decision.”

Herenton, who badly trails Cohen in fundraising, has drawn attention by making race an issue throughout his campaign, arguing with his “Just One” slogan that Tennessee needs an African-American congressman. All nine House members and the two U.S. senators are white.