For the first election in a decade, Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper is facing a primary.
This time, two people are trying to unseat the 15-term incumbent. A former public defender and a small business owner are part of a new wave of candidates trying to change the Democratic Party.
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper
Rep. Cooper, 66, is a Blue Dog Democrat, part of a coalition of some of the most centrists members of the party in the U.S. House of Representatives. They call themselves “fiscally responsible.”
He says these ideals have worked in favor of the Blue Dog caucus.
“We can take almost any district,” Cooper told WPLN News. “And that’s really important in the South and other areas of the country where Democrats have not fared so well.”
But being a centrist Democrat has put Cooper at odds with the new wave of candidates who are more liberal. For example, he didn’t support the Green New Deal environmental plan until he got progressive primary challengers.
Still, Cooper touts his experience in politics as one of the main reasons why those in Davidson, Dickson and parts of Cheatham Counties should vote for him.
“When you are sick and go to the doctor, you want a brand new doctor who’s never practiced before?” Cooper said. “Or, do you want an experienced physician who actually has seen a lot of disease and knows how to treat it, and has a proven track record of doing a good job?”
Cooper says the Democrats need someone with his experience in Congress to keep holding President Trump accountable. He said he has a 95 percent voting record with the Democrats.
Keeda Haynes, Public Defender
Keeda Haynes is a 42-year-old Black woman who became a public defender after spending almost four years in federal prison for drug-related charges. She says she was innocent the whole time.
Now, Haynes is challenging Cooper. She is making criminal justice reform a centerpiece of her platform. She also wants to tackle systemic racism in government institutions.
“As well respected of a politician as he is, he is not the voice to lead us right now in this moment,” Haynes told WPLN News. “I know what it feels to be ignored by society for whatever reason — be it the ZIP code that you live in, the income that you make, your past or whatever.”
She has been endorsed by some of the same progressive groups that have pushed back on Cooper’s voting record.
“That just goes to show that not only in this community and in this district — but all across the county— that we are ready for change,” Haynes said, “that the people that have been representing us really no longer represent us.”
Joshua Rawlings, Business Owner
The third candidate in the race is trailing behind in endorsements and fundraising.
Joshua Rawlings, 27, raised eyebrows when he announced his candidacy. Up until recently, he had been a Republican. He even ran for office under the GOP in 2014.
But now, Rawlings is running as a Democrat, even though he says he doesn’t like labels.
“I’m essentially a member of the community who is seeking common sense solutions to issues,” Rawlings told WPLN News.
The small business owner said his biggest priorities are implementing term limits, universal health care and taking what he calls “big money” out of politics.
“Jim Cooper who takes money from lawyers, lobbyists … and so many others, is only responding to corporate lobbyists,” Rawlings said. “I just do not support that approach and I see the issues that we are dealing with as existential.”
Even though Rawlings’ chances of winning are slimmer, he sees this opportunity to challenge an establishment Democrat who has been in office for almost four decades.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated how many years Rep. Cooper was in office. Though he first took office in 1983, he was not a member of Congress from 1995 to January 2003.