Shontel Brown, the Cuyahoga County Democratic chair, has won a nationally contested congressional special primary election in Ohio, defeating a high-profile progressive candidate with help from Democratic establishment leaders.
The district is heavily Democratic, and Tuesday’s result will likely give Brown a House seat. It will also give establishment Democrats another data point to argue that their message resonates better with voters than what progressives are selling.
Brown defeated Nina Turner, a top ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders and national cochair of his 2020 presidential campaign. Turner was long considered the frontrunner of the race to replace Marcia Fudge, who President Joe Biden made a cabinet secretary. But Brown was able to build up her campaign with the support of prominent establishment Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, and the Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty. The race had come to be seen by many as a proxy battle between competing factions of the party and their visions for its future.
“It was clear that she was losing this race until you had those endorsements and that outside money flowing into the campaign,” said David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron. “This is more of a contest of personalities and who voters believe will be fighting for them in Congress.”
Turner conceded before Brown declared victory. In her concession speech, Turner said, "It is OK to be sad tonight, but tomorrow we must roll up our sleeves and continue to fight." She also made a personal commitment: "I am going to work hard to ensure that something like this never happens to a progressive candidate again."
This election, held in an off year in the middle of the summer and ahead of redistricting, will likely tell little about where the party or the national mood among voters stand at large. Nonetheless, it received a lot of attention from national groups and figures who poured into the district to back the leading candidates.
“Jim clyburn is a king & Queen maker,” said Antjuan Seawright, a political adviser to Clyburn, when asked by text Tuesday night for a statement in response to the results.
Throughout the campaign, Brown made the case that she would be an effective partner to Biden and better able to make progress in Washington than Turner, who she argued would have to spend time making amends for past positions she had taken on the national level.
“When you have put yourself at odds with the very folks that you are expected to work with, that does not make for a productive work environment,” Brown told BuzzFeed News last week. “We need somebody who’s ready to go to work and doesn’t have to start mending fences before they can be a productive leader for our district.” (Turner’s campaign insisted she would be able to work with people in Congress if she were elected.)
“We’re doing what is expected, and that is growing the party. I’m a coalition builder, and a public servant to my core, one that focuses on issues and delivering for the people that are trusting me to make decisions on their behalf.”