Jim Cooper on 2020, 2022 and more

Jim Cooper

National Republicans seem to be growing more optimistic that they can win the Nashville-based 5th Congressional District, which hasn’t been won by a Republican since Reconstruction.

The moves may be a sign that state Republicans in charge of redistricting are primed to split Nashville into multiple congressional districts, putting the city’s reliably Democratic electorate into GOP-friendly districts.

“They've targeted the Nashville district before and always come up short,” Cooper spokesperson Christopher Jerrolds said. “Since they can’t win Nashville in elections, they may try to win through gerrymandering.”

Earlier this month, the National Republican Congressional Committee added U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) to its list of 2022 targets. The group added Cooper (and fellow Tennessee Democrat, Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis) to another target list, dubbed the “Democrat Exit List,” this week.

“In a cycle like this, no Democrat is safe,” NRCC Chair Tom Emmer said. “Voters are rejecting Democrat policies that have caused massive price increases, opened our borders, and spurred a nationwide crime wave.”

Cooper has been warning about a possible split for months, even going to the state legislature to publicly ask the Republican lawmakers to leave his district intact.

State House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) told the Post in September that it was “unrealistic” for “any congressman to make demands or think that his or her district is not going to change.”

State lawmakers are currently drafting new maps, to be considered when the House and Senate return to Nashville in January.

Given past voting history, it seems unlikely that any Republican could challenge Cooper in the district as it exists now. But it’s fairly simple to draw a new map that dilutes Nashville votes enough that Republicans could win the seat and still maintain comfortable majorities in neighboring districts.

As Cooper hopes for a certain redistricting outcome, he’s facing his most spirited primary challenge in years, as Nashville nonprofit leader Odessa Kelly mounts a campaign on his left flank.

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