There are few progressive voices on the left wing of the Democratic Party more respected and admired than Nina Turner. Her devotion to Sen. Bernie Sanders during his 2016 and 2020 races and outspokenness against the moderate voices of the party establishment empowered her standing on the far left, but weakened her standing in the middle—which Shontel Brown’s victory signaled after Tuesday’s special congressional primary election in Ohio’s 11th District.
Brown, who will very likely win the general election in the deep-blue Northeast district, said as much in her victory speech.
“I’m not about lip service. I’ve been about public service,” Brown said at her victory party Tuesday night. “Potentially the next member of the 11th Congressional District...can walk into the door with good relationships.”
Turner, alternatively, blamed Super PAC money and negative ads for her loss, saying that “evil money manipulated and maligned this election” during her concession speech. The Intercept reported in July that Brown received donations from conservative donors, which Turner addressed during a recent appearance on Ronald Martin’s Unfiltered.
A Democrat will almost certainly win the general special election, but what Brown’s win means is that the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party will continue to duke it out with progressives who are working to take control of its leadership. That much of the Congressional Black Caucus leadership backed Brown, and progressives—including the Squad—backed Turner isn’t a surprise. Even Brown’s victory should not be a shocker to anyone.
Yes, Turner did lead with fundraising and political ads out of the gate and had more national recognition. But what is also important is that Brown is seen as a more local face who people are more familiar with. She is the current chair of the Cuyahoga County Democrats, the first Black woman to hold the position. Additionally, she got the backing of Marcia Fudge, who vacated the seat when President Joe Biden appointed her to be secretary of housing and urban development. Comparatively, Turner hasn’t held elected office since 2014, when she was last a state senator.
Say what you will about Turner, but she is likely to be a powerful force at the national level, even if she could not do so locally—this time.
And her loss, which was by fewer than 6 percentage points, isn’t as big a blow for her and progressives as some would make it out to be. Those numbers show that she was a formidable candidate who needs to fine tune how her national prominence can translate to local votes. Brown proved that a local presence, GOP money and ads notwithstanding, still means something.
But what does this say about the leadership of the Democratic Party? Basically, that they have little interest in engaging the more left-leaning side of their base. The Root wrote in 2020 that establishment Democrats have long been at odds with progressives who are rocking the boat and went as far as blaming them for losing House seats. It was complete bullshit, but they did it anyway. Brown’s victory is one race in which they won. It doesn’t necessarily mean this will translate in next year’s midterms.
Remember in 2020 that Rep. Cori Bush won her race against a decades-long incumbent whose father once held the seat and Jamaal Bowman defeated Eliot Engel, who was the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and had been elected to 16 terms. You win some, you lose some.
Turner lost this race. That doesn’t mean she can’t win next time.