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Odessa Kelly is challenging a conservative Democrat Congressman in Tennessee

Kelly is a member of the Justice Democrats

Carol Ozemhoya, OW Contributor | 4/6/2021, 10:02 a.m.
Nashville community organizer Odessa Kelly...
Odessa Kelly. Odessa Kelly

Nashville community organizer Odessa Kelly said that she is mounting a progressive primary challenge against Rep. Jim Cooper, a veteran Tennessee Democrat with a history of fiscally conservative votes, reports the Huffington Post.

“We need more pathways out of poverty, and the status quo is no longer good enough,” Kelly, a co-founder and executive director of the liberal group Stand Up Nashville, said in a statement. “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.”

Kelly, who is 39 and Black, is the first candidate the left-wing group Justice Democrats recruited to run this election cycle.

The primary election in Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District, which Cooper represents, is due to take place on Aug. 4, 2022.

In the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, Justice Democrats recruited or backed candidates who ousted five moderate House Democrats. The group’s most famous recruit is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who unseated then-House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley in June 2018 and subsequently became a national media star.

Justice Democrats aims to shift the House Democratic Caucus to the left by replacing moderate or conservative Democrats in safe blue seats with anti-establishment progressives willing to play hardball with party leadership.

Kelly and Cooper, a 66-year-old attorney with deep roots in Nashville politics, both fit the group’s ideological criteria.

Citing her Christian faith and working-class upbringing, Kelly declared in a two-minute video accompanying her official campaign announcement that she supports “Medicare for All” and a Green New Deal. She vowed to refuse donations from corporate political action committees.

Although Cooper is relatively liberal on so-called social issues, with high marks from the reproductive rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, he is a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition and has been to the right of the Democratic mainstream on a number of key fiscal priorities.

Cooper was one of just 11 Democrats to vote against then-President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package in 2009.