Brown’s primary victory, equivalent to the general election in that deep blue seat in northeast Ohio, ends a controversial summer of the Democrats’ grueling row with Joe Biden in the White House over the direction of their party. Establishment forces leave the race with a blueprint on how to dull progressive enthusiasm in this cycle. The result is yet another setback for the liberal wing that has struggled to put wins on the board this year.
Turner, a former Ohio state senator who became an assistant vice-president for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential nominations, stepped into the promotion as a well-known figure with tremendous financial advantage; Her own internal poll from late May had it with 50 percent of the vote, and she had the support of Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) and the Justice Democrats, a leading progressive group.
But that notoriety was perhaps as much an obstacle as it was an asset to Turner. Her passionate speeches on behalf of progressive politics earned her sectarian status on the left, but her propensity to target Democrats earned her more than a few enemies.
Brown, a councilor and Democratic Party leader in Cuyahoga County, is a protégé of former incumbent Marcia Fudge, who vacated the seat to serve as Biden’s housing secretary. Her boosters included Hillary Clinton, who defeated Sanders for the 2016 presidential nomination; Jewish Democrats suspicious of Turner’s comments on Israel; and the leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (DS.C.) and Chairwoman Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio).
To weaken Turner’s early momentum, Brown’s allies bombarded the airwaves with ads evoking unfavorable Turner comments about the Democratic Party. (Some spots featured a now infamous interview Turner gave comparing voting for Joe Biden to eating excrement.) The Democratic majority for the Israeli super-PAC was the largest donor, raising nearly $ 1 million lost on television to crank Brown.
The CBC, eager to deter liberal insurgents from challenging their own members in primary elections, went all-in for Brown. Her political arm officially backed her, and Beatty, Clyburn and Rep. Gregory Meeks (DN.Y.) and Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) Spent the final weekend of the race storming the borough, parts of Cleveland and Akron includes.
Their persistent engagement sparked protests from progressives, confused as to why the group would engage in an open race between two black women. The faction was particularly offended, however, at an exchange between Turner and rapper killer Mike in June, in which the two claimed that Clyburn had not got enough of Biden in return for his insistent support for his presidential campaign. Clyburn endorsed and ran an ad for Brown shortly thereafter.
For progressives, it’s another stab lost after their candidates fail nomination competitions in Virginia, New York City and Louisiana, spreading concern that with Donald Trump out of office, they lost some of their urgency. And Turner’s lead role in the movement – and the inherent early benefits – make the result even more painful.
The race brought together several establishment forces in the party, including pro-Israel groups and the centrist Third Way organization – partnerships that are likely to continue throughout the cycle. The redistribution will create a series of open seats over which the various ideological factions will fight. It is worth noting, however, that the moderate attacks against Turner did not target the progressive proposals she supported, such as Medicare-for-all or a Green New Deal – an indication that they are popular with the grassroots.
It may not be so easy for the establishment to tear down a progressive candidate with a thinner public record. Turner was a fixture on cable television and did not hold back her dislike of Clinton and Biden and the Democratic Party leaders. That left a treasure trove of footage that her critics used to cut advertisements.