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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

OH-11 Primary Has Lessons for Dems

At CNN Politics, Eric Bradner has a sound analysis of moderate progressive Shontel Brown’s victory over left progressive Nina Turner in the Democratic primary to represent Ohio’s 11th congressional district. As Bradner explains:

In the heavily Democratic 11th District, which stretches from Cleveland to Akron, establishment-backed Cuyahoga County Democratic chairwoman and county council member Shontel Brown — who was backed by Hillary Clinton, Rep. Jim Clyburn and the Congressional Black Caucus — defeated former state senator Nina Turner, the long-time ally of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Turner remained critical of Clinton after the primary’s conclusion in 2016 and in 2020 once compared voting for Biden to eating half a bowl of human excrement.

Turner would likely have lost to Brown even without the comment, which she made in an interview by The Atlantic about the 2020 election. Political activists of all stripes frequently make such comments, but it’s a big mistake to share them in a major magazine interview.

Bradner notes that “Progressives saw Ohio as a chance to steer the House Democratic caucus further left. Turner — a long-time Sanders ally who became a national figure before any member of the left-wing “Squad” was elected to Congress — would have joined their ranks.” However, “in what could be a preview of how establishment forces will mobilize to protect incumbent Democrats facing primary challenges next year, more moderate Democrats fought back. Out of a crowded field, they rallied behind Brown, a candidate more likely to support Biden and his agenda in Washington.” Also,

And again it was Clyburn — the kingmaker in the 2020 Democratic primary, when his endorsement propelled Biden to a massive victory in the South Carolina primary and a romp three days later, on Super Tuesday — playing a central role.

Clyburn stepped in when the rapper and activist Killer Mike, appearing at a campaign event with Turner, said the No. 3 House Democrat had been “incredibly stupid” to back Biden without securing more concessions. Clyburn endorsed Brown and warned that the left’s “sloganeering” — such as calls to defund the police — is politically damaging.

The Congressional Black Caucus’ political arm endorsed Brown, and Clyburn and other leading Black Democrats campaigned for her on the race’s closing weekend.

Bradner adds that “Jewish voters and pro-Israel groups played important roles down the stretch. The Democratic Majority for Israel super PAC spent heavily against Turner, who has been critical of Israel at times. And Brown’s support from Jewish Democrats in the district proved pivotal — a reality that Brown acknowledged in her victory speech, in which she thanked “my Jewish brothers and sisters” and discussed how a 2018 trip to Israel shaped her view of the US-Israel relationship.”

However, Bradner writes, “It’s hard to distill much about the direction of the Democratic Party on major generational and ideological issues from individual races — particularly low-turnout primaries in off-year special elections like Ohio’s 11th District contest. Further,

Moderate, establishment-aligned figures have now notched a series of important victories over more progressive candidates, dating back to Biden defeating Sanders in the 2020 presidential primary. In Virginia, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe held off challengers to win the primary as he seeks another term. In New York City, centrist Eric Adams won the mayoral primary.

But at the same time, progressives have claimed victories of their own. New York City chose a progressive candidate for comptroller at the same time it picked a moderate for mayor. Buffalo voters ousted their incumbent mayor in favor of India Walton, a self-professed socialist and political newcomer. A progressive challenger, state Rep. Ed Gainey, unseated Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

What seems clear is that progressives have yet to figure out — especially in high-turnout contests — how to crack up the Biden coalition of working-class voters, Black voters and suburban moderates who are playing an increasingly large role in Democratic primaries.

In other words, everything is as it should be in the big tent party, with a healthy competition between moderate and left Democrats. Moderate progressives have an edge in most Democratic-leaning districts for now. There are a few Democratic congressional districts in the U.S., in which a candidate with Turner’s views could win, but probably not in Ohio. Brown, however, will win and hold the district for Democrats.

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