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Upset in Ohio: Congressional Primaries Shift the Needle

A nasty battle between primary candidates ended with disastrous results – for progressives.

by | Aug 4, 2021 | Articles, Politics

Ohio’s 11th and 15th congressional districts faced primary votes on Aug. 3, with the results proving upsetting for progressives and positive for moderates and Trump-backers.

Less than three hours after the polls closed in Ohio’s 11th district Democrat race – and even before the Associated Press called it – progressive candidate Nina Turner conceded to Shontel Brown, despite being the favored contender. The special election was held to choose one Republican and one Democrat for the November ballot to fill the vacancy left by Marcia Fudge, who exited her position in the House of Representatives to become the Biden administration’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

In the state’s 15th congressional district, Donald Trump’s influence won the day, with Mike Carey winning the Republican race. Carey will go up against Rep. Allison Russo (D) in the Nov. 2 election.

Anger and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

Progressive Dems were looking for a sweep after Buffalo mayoral candidate India Walton and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), both progressives, won their primaries last year. They were counting on the leftist Turner to take a seat in Congress, pushing the liberal agenda and keeping out the more centrist members of their party.

Shontel Brown (Photo by Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The fight to the finish line was particularly nasty between Turner and Brown, who took turns placing scathing ads against each other. Blaine A. Griffin, a member of the Cleveland City Council who supported Turner, remarked: “You can’t turn on your social media, you can’t turn on your TV, you can’t turn on anything without having to deal with this. It’s that bad.” He added, “And I can tell you that a lot of people are getting turned off.”

In April, Brown was behind Turner by more than 30 points but closed that gap to a narrow margin of just seven in July. Brown’s campaign, as well as outside actors, started pouring money into derogatory ads against her opponent. Still, the progressives were confident their choice would come out on top. Backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ms. Turner supports Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, but it’s her continued outspoken and sometimes crude insults slung at President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Israel that may have destroyed her chances at a win.

An outside group ran an ad from July 2020 that highlighted some of Turner’s comments, including when she said that, for Sanders’ supporters, there was little difference in voting for Biden over then-President Donald Trump, and compared it to eating a half bowl of “s—t instead of a full bowl of excrement.”

A big disagreement between the two ladies was Israel. The district has a high number of Jewish voters, so Turner’s reluctance to back U.S. support for the country and her expressed sympathy for Palestinians likely cut into her potential voting base. The Democratic Majority for Israel PAC released ads highlighting Turner’s past remarks about Biden and Mrs. Clinton, further dividing the party.

Brown, who had the endorsements of Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) and Hillary Clinton, was not expected to beat Turner – yet she ended the race with a decisive, if surprising, victory. Even an attack ad campaign stating that said she “voted to give herself a $7,000 raise while opposing Biden’s $15 minimum wage plan” did not sway the voters against her. The commercial continued, promising, “Brown could face charges; if convicted, jail time.” Despite Turner raising $2 million more in advertising funds, Brown’s campaign was able to fend off the primary hopeful successfully. Will this be the end of the party bickering or just a taste of the future?

On the GOP side, Laverne Gore defeated Felicia Washington Ross in a near landslide with 74.1% of the votes. Gore will go up against Brown for the 11th congressional district seat.

The Trump Factor

Meanwhile, Ohio’s 15th district faced another primary selection, this time for a November race to replace former U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R), who, in May, resigned to lead the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

The Hill published an article the day before the election, noting that “Trump has already attempted to wield his endorsement as a powerful tool in the 2022 cycle, but the contest in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District will test the strength of his brand at a precarious time.” Dems and Republicans alike have watched the race, wondering just how much sway the former president wields.

Trump endorsed Mike Carey, a virtually unknown Republican, in June. “Should Carey win,” The Hill predicted, “pundits would likely cast it as a demonstration of the strength of Trump’s endorsement and his lingering sway among the GOP base. But a loss would compound on a narrative that his influence could be slipping.” How much of an impact did the former president have? GOP strategist Mike Hartley explained: “I think it’s one of the top influencers in this race. Nobody had an idea who Mike Carey was until former President Trump endorsed him. And that’s the only thing he’s banking on, really.”

Carey won with 37% of the votes and 99% reporting at the time of this publication. In a statement, the new nominee celebrated the victory:

“Tonight, Republicans across Ohio’s 15th Congressional District sent a clear message to the nation that President Donald J. Trump is, without a doubt, the leader of our party. I could not be more grateful for his support, and I am proud to deliver this win to advance his America First agenda.”

(Photo by Stephen Zenner/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Why was the Ohio Race so Important?

In the 11th congressional district, the progressive and outspoken Turner was expected to win. Backed by Sanders and AOC, with double the ad funding, and with recent elections going to fellow progressives, Dems were sure they had the nomination clinched.

In the 15th district, it was proven with Carey’s win, a no-name underdog, that Trump’s influence is still powerful and perhaps even growing. As Liberty Nation recently reported, a July Rasmussen poll showed voters preferred the former president over the current commander in chief. At a time when the Delta COVID variant is terrorizing the nation, the study revealed that, “While most voters approve of President Joe Biden’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, they give former President Donald Trump more credit for the coronavirus vaccine program.”

The Buckeye State has shown that voters may not be so enthused with the progressive agenda as once thought and that Mr. Trump still packs a powerful punch. The Democrat divide seems to be growing even wider, and now with these election results, those further to the left of the party may need to rethink their strategy.


Read more from Kelli Ballard.

Read More From Kelli Ballard

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