Progressives target Jim Cooper for primary challenge

Justice Democrats, the left-wing group that recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to run for Congress, has its eyes set on ousting another Democratic incumbent.

The organization will announce Monday that it is backing Democrat Odessa Kelly in her campaign against Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper — a Blue Dog Coalition member who has long frustrated liberals. It is the first primary challenge unveiled by Justice Democrats for the 2022 cycle.

“As someone who has spent her life as a public servant and a community organizer, Odessa Kelly is exactly the kind of Democrat we need in Congress,” said Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas in a statement. “Our grassroots movement has shocked the nation in two cycles and we are prepared to do it again. It’s time to usher in a new generation of progressive leadership into the Democratic Party.”

Cooper has been disliked by progressives for years, including at a time when the left was less muscular than it is today. In 2013, Daily Kos floated the idea of challenging Cooper and ripped him for voting against nearly $51 billion in Hurricane Sandy aid.

The fact that he cast a ballot against Speaker Nancy Pelosi and didn’t promptly pay his party dues also upset liberals at the time.

In a press release about its primary challenge, Justice Democrats called Cooper a “conservative Democrat” and hit him for supporting the Balanced Budget Amendment and opposing former President Barack Obama’s stimulus.

“I’m the only candidate for Congress who is committed to bold, ambitious change,” said Kelly. “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.”

Kelly, who is also announcing her campaign today, previously worked as a community center manager at a Nashville rec center and co-founded Stand Up Nashville, a progressive group focused on racial and economic inequality. She would be the first openly gay Black woman to win a congressional seat if elected.

In addition to helping Ocasio-Cortez defeat former New York Rep. Joe Crowley, Justice Democrats backed Reps. Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Marie Newman and Ayanna Pressley in their successful campaigns against sitting Democratic House members.

The crusade against Cooper fits the model for the group’s other victorious challenges in at least one way: His Nashville-based seat is a blue district, where President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by nearly 24 percentage points.

The fact that Cooper represents a comfortably Democratic area — but doesn’t vote like a progressive — is part of what has drawn liberals’ ire for years.