Sanders-Backed Progressive Upset by Establishment Dem in Ohio Special Election

Elections
Nina Turner speaks ahead of then-Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, February 14, 2020. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

A progressive upstart candidate backed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suffered a surprise defeat to an establishment democrat in a Ohio special election Tuesday.

Former state senator Nina Turner lost to Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown, a more moderate Democrat who secured the endorsement of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Democratic whip Representative James Clyburn (D., S.C.), the Congressional Black Caucus’s PAC and multiple pro-Israel organizations.

“Tonight, my friends, we have looked across the promised land, but for this campaign, on this night, we will not cross the river,” Turner hinted to her eventual  concession before the winner was announced.

While the race included 13 Democratic candidates, Turner and Brown were soon positioned as the clear frontrunners. While Turner enjoyed a comfortable winning margin for much of the race, Brown edged ahead in the final stretch. The competition took place in a firmly Democratic district loyal to President Biden.

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Brown said on Facebook that Biden called to congratulate her on her victory. She dedicated time to strengthening her campaign’s relationships with the president and the establishment wing of the Democratic party, while Turner branded herself as more of an outsider, often assailing Democratic leadership for not being more aggressive in pursuing radical policies and even comparing voting for Biden to “eating a bowl of sh**.”

While Turner’s agenda supported Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, Brown did not explicitly include these on her platform, preferring a gradual rather than drastic adoption of such sweeping government programs.

“To be in this position, to be able to be an example for others that anything really is possible if you just believe and are faithful and work hard,” Brown commented.

Over the weekend, Sanders promoted Turner’s campaign despite the district’s known Biden-bias. When asked about his candidate, significantly more left-leaning than her primary opponent, the Vermont senator suggested that the election loss does not necessarily predict anything for the trajectory of the party.

“Every time there’s an election, you guys go through this whole routine again: We lose an election, we’re collapsing; we win an election, we’re soaring,” he said before the election.

The Ohio contest highlighted the division between the Democratic progressive-activist and centrist blocs, both rivaling to determine the party’s and the country’s trajectory.

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