House special elections in Ohio highlight parties’ divisions

Two contentious special election primaries in Ohio for open congressional seats will wrap up on Tuesday night. Both highlight the divisiveness and rancor within the Democratic and Republican Parties ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

A battle between progressives and the Democratic Party establishment is playing out in Ohio’s 11th District, where two Black women —  Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign co-chair Nina Turner and Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Chair Shontel Brown — are the leading Democratic candidates in a seat President Biden won with 80% of the vote.

Turner has been backed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders. Brown is backed by the establishment, including the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus, Democratic House Whip James Clyburn and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. But Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, who vacated the Cleveland-area seat to take the cabinet position, is backing Turner. 

In the runup to what has been the most expensive House special election race so far this year, the two have been blanketing the airwaves with attack ads. Turner has accused Brown of “using office to enrich friends, family” and herself, voting as a member of Cuyahoga County Council to award multimillion-dollar contracts to her boyfriend’s company. Brown’s campaign and supporters often argue she’ll be a representative who can work with Mr. Biden to bring results, rather than challenge the party’s establishment from the left.

ohio-primaries.jpg
Shontel Brown, Nina Turner, Mike Carey and Steve Stivers Getty Images

“You need a candidate that once they get to Washington, they can get right in and get something done. You don’t need somebody who’s going to go there and talk about tearing the place up, doing all that,” Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said at a late July event for Brown. 

“What you need is somebody who will be a good Democrat… who supports Joe Biden as President,” he added.

But Turner has been the leading fundraiser in the Democratic field, bringing in at least $4.5 million according to the last Federal Elections Commission report. However, she says that other outside groups such as the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC and “dark money” have been outspending her, with about $3.5 million in total flooding the district with anti-Turner mailers and television ads. 

“The corporatists… the status quo keepers and seekers are throwing everything at us to try and stop this movement,” Turner said at a July virtual rally with Our Revolution, an outside group of which Turner previously served as president.. “There is no depth too low for these people to go.”

Turner and the groups supporting her have pointed to differences between the two on universal healthcare and cancelling student loan debt.

“If you want somebody who’s not just going to be another member of Congress, but somebody who’s got the guts to speak out on the important issues and fight for working people, I am here today to urge you to elect Nina Turner as your next member of Congress,” Sanders said at a rally the weekend before the primary.

Thirteen Democrats are running in Tuesday’s primary. The winner will be the heavy favorite for the special general election in November. 

Meanwhile, former President Trump and national Republicans are keeping a close eye on the Republican primary in Ohio’s 15th district, especially after the  Republicancandidate he endorsed lost in Texas’ 6th District runoff last month.

In the Ohio race, Mr. Trump backed coal lobbyist Mike Carey for the heavily Republican seat left vacant by Congressman Steve Stivers, who resigned in May to become president of the state Chamber of Commerce. The Make America Great Again PAC spent $348,000 on an 11th-hour ad buy for Carey in late July.

“Numerous candidates… are saying that I am supporting them, when in actuality, I don’t know them, and don’t even know who they are. But I do know who Mike Carey is — I know a lot about him, and it is all good,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. 

However, Stivers has backed state Representative Jeff LaRe and has spent $344,000 on ads to boost his candidacy. Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul has spent about $680,000 to support yet another candidate, former state Representative Ron Hood. State Senator Bob Peterson is also running in this primary, and was backed by state Senate President Larry Obhof on Monday.

Debbie Meadow, the wife of Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows, has a political action committee that is backing Columbus NAACP President Ruth Edwards. 

Eleven Republicans in total are on the ballot in Ohio’s 15th District, which Mr. Trump won by more than 14 points.

Polls in both districts close at 7:30 p.m. ET.