POLITICS

On the slide: Steve Cohen's week of bad publicity

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Politics,Congress,Tennessee,Sean Lengell

Even by Washington standards, Rep. Steve Cohen's past week has been bizarre, as the Tennessee Democrat faced a trifecta of misfortunes that included a negative paternity test, an awkward quip to a female reporter and a racially toned tweet.

His rough patch started when the 24-year-old woman and aspiring swimsuit model he publicly declared was his out-of-wedlock daughter earlier this year told CNN that a DNA test showed she wasn't.

Cohen, 64, who said he learned of the results of the DNA test in June, called the news "heartbreaking" but said he still cares for Victoria Brink and will carry on a relationship with her.

"I've just been crushed, and I know she has been, too," he told CNN. "It obviously won't be the same because she's not going to have my grandchildren and she's not my child, but I still care about her greatly."

During President Obama's State of the Union address, Cohen sent tweets that included "Happy Valentine's, beautiful girl" and "ilu," for "I love you," then quickly deleted them. When reporters questioned him about the correspondence, he said the woman was his daughter.

Cohen, who is single, said Brink's mother didn't tell him she was his daughter until 2010 and that Brink didn't know until a year earlier.

The same day that Brink announced that Cohen wasn't her dad, the congressman told a female reporter that although she was "very attractive" he wasn't going to answer her question about the paternity test.

The reporter, Caitlin Huey-Burns of RealClearPolitics, said he then apologized if he had offended her.

If all that bad publicity wasn't enough, Cohen, who is white, tweeted a couple days later that an African-American tow truck driver, after hauling off his broken down 1986 Cadillac, praised him by calling him "black."

"A lot of African-Americans drive old cars, Cadillacs," Cohen later told MSNBC. "I come out and I tell [the driver] the story. I said I've had a tough week ... I said it's just been hell. He goes, man, you're black. And I took it as a compliment."

He added that black constituents in his Memphis-area district "don't look at me as a white person" and that "they say you're one of us."

Still, his actions may not hurt him much -- if at all -- politically, as voters in his majority-black district are used to his outspoken behavior, said David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. And black challengers to Cohen in past elections have failed after the media portrayed their campaigns as exploiting the race card.

"The challenge for Cohen opponents will be to frame the race as a sane person versus a crazy person, rather than a black candidate versus a white candidate," Wasserman said.

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