The former award-winning broadcast journalist announced just a few weeks ago that he's taking on Republican Dennis Ross in Florida's 15th Congressional District race next year. And since that time, he's been introducing himself to Democrats at party gatherings in Polk and Hillsborough County.
Monday night he spoke at the Hillsborough County Democratic executive committee meeting in Ybor City, where he laced into Ross and appealed for grassroots support to help win a congressional seat that has been solidly red for decades.
Cohn believes that last year's redistricting (which now includes more of Hillsborough County than Polk) gives him an advantage. Not to mention his communication skills honed from three decades of being a television reporter. And there's that confidence thing, too.
"We have been greeted with an incredible amount of enthusiasm," he told the Hillsborough Democrats assembled at the Children's Board. "People tell us every single day that they have been looking for a voice, somebody who represents them, (someone who) doesn't blow them off when they want to ask a question."[jump]
Ross served in the Florida Legislature for years until he successfully ran in 2010 for the Congressional seat held for a decade by Adam Putnam, who appeared to be destined to move up in the GOP House leadership. But Putnam surprised many after the 2008 election (which saw the House, Senate and presidency all controlled by Democrats) by announcing that he was leaving Washington. He ended up winning his race for agriculture commissioner in 2010.
Ross has one of the most conservative voting records in the House, and Cohn's message is that Ross' values simply don't resonate with the majority of voters in the newly constructed district.
"If you Google Mr. Ross' name, you don't find much," Cohn said. "He's a ghost." He contrasted that with his own Internet presence, specifically his website , where he said voters can learn all about his journalism work that aided the public over the past 30 years.
Cohn said he needs to raise between $1.5-$2 million to be seriously competitive, and he used the occasion to solicit campaigns from the dais. He said he's being challenged by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to reach a certain financial mark by the end of next month (which he did specify), and if he does so, they'll give him access to national donors.
"If it's a matter of a grassroots campaign, I'm confident. If it's a matter of an air war on television and radio, I'm confident in victory because I have made my living for 30 years communicating a message ... the question is to whether I'm going to have the resources. If I come close, if I can effectively communicate a message on television, we win."
Congressman Ross and the GOP establishment will be doing everything they can to make sure the seat stays in Republican hands. Cohn's challenge is to convince Democrats in Washington that he can be competitive in the race, so they will invest in him. The last time they did that was back in 2000, when it was an open seat. But Putnam won that year and controlled the seat for a decade, followed by Ross' two terms.