Justice Democrats on Monday announced that it is backing progressive organizer Odessa Kelly in her primary challenge against longtime Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee.
In announcing her campaign, the 39-year old Kelly, who is Black, took aim at the 66-year old Cooper’s record of fiscally conservative votes in the House.
“We need more pathways out of poverty, and the status quo is no longer good enough,” said Kelly, a co-founder and executive director of the liberal group Stand Up Nashville. “I know how to build coalitions that get results, and I’m running for Congress so that we can make bold, ambitious change at the national level.”
Justice Democrats, in a statement announcing their backing of Kelly, touted that “our movement has shocked the nation before and we are prepared to do it again. As a public servant and a community organizer, Odessa is exactly the kind of Democrat we need in Congress.”
Kelly, if elected to the House next year, would make history as the first openly gay Black woman to win a congressional seat.
In her announcement, Kelly charged that “Jim Cooper is one of the wealthiest members of Congress who takes money from corporate PACs representing weapons manufacturers and real estate developers, with no real record of progressive change in nearly 40 years. This city needs a leader who will fight for the people who make Nashville great.”
Justice Democrats, founded in 2017, recruited Ocasio-Cortez, who stunned the political world with her Democratic primary defeat of longtime Rep. Joe Crowley of New York. The same year they also backed a fellow member of the so-called “Squad,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, in her primary ouster of veteran Rep. Mike Capuano in the Democratic primary. And they supported fellow “Squad” members Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan in their 2018 elections to Congress.
Last year, the group backed now Reps. Jamaal Bowman of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri in their primary defeats of longtime Democratic incumbents.
Justice Democrats’ targeting of Cooper, who is White, fits the group’s pattern of taking aim at moderate House Democrats who represent safe blue districts. Cooper represents Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District, a Nashville-based seat that President Biden won by 24 points over Donald Trump last November, even though Trump won Tennessee by 23 points.
Cooper, one of the few remaining moderate Democrats known as Blue Dogs, was first elected to the House in 1982. He unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 1994, but returned to Congress eight years later, winning the seat in the 5th District.
Cooper was unopposed in his 2020 reelection.