Nina Turner compared voting for Joe Biden last year to eating a “bowl of shit,” so it shouldn’t exactly be a surprise that she lost her bid for Congress after the race became about her disdain for the Democratic Establishment.
Turner lost a special primary election for Congress in Cleveland on Tuesday to rival Shontel Brown, a county councilwoman, by a margin of 50-45 percent. The seat was vacated when Marcia Fudge resigned from Congress to become Biden’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development. It seemed like a lock for Turner, a former state senator who raised the most money and went on TV the earliest. But then the campaign turned into an intra-Democratic proxy fight between the party’s left wing and “normie Democrats.”
Although Turner was originally a vocal leader in the “Ready for Hillary” Clinton presidential effort in 2014, she became one of Bernie Sanders’s most prominent surrogates in the actual 2016 presidential campaign. Afterward, Turner flirted with an offer to be Jill Stein’s running mate and declined to back Clinton against Donald Trump in the general election. Although Turner eventually backed Biden in 2020, she did so only after comparing a vote for the Democratic nominee to eating excrement: “It’s like saying to somebody, ‘You have a bowl of shit in front of you, and all you’ve got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing.’ It’s still shit.”
This was an opportunity for Brown, her top opponent in a splintered field, to turn the race into a referendum on Biden and loyalty to the Democratic Party in a district heavily populated by Black and Jewish members of the party’s base.
Although Turner initially ran to the center, she eventually embraced the party’s left after she plummeted in the polls. The former Sanders surrogate brought him to Ohio along with a variety of other high-profile backers of his campaign in the closing days of the race, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In contrast, James Clyburn, the number-three Democrat in the House, came to stump on Brown’s behalf. Clyburn was lured into the race after rapper Killer Mike at a Turner campaign event described the South Carolina Democrat as “incredibly stupid” to endorse Biden during the 2020 presidential primary, which saved Biden’s campaign in the state. Turner, who was sitting alongside Killer Mike, seemed to agree.
In another Ohio special election, the leader of the Republican Party had a good night as well. Trump’s candidate in an otherwise low-stakes primary for a congressional seat outside of Columbus won, only one week after a Trump-endorsed candidate lost a Republican runoff in a special election in Texas. In Ohio, he backed Mike Carey, a coal lobbyist and longtime friend of Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, in a crowded Republican primary to replace outgoing representative Steve Stivers. Carey won by an overwhelming margin, getting 37 percent of the vote, nearly three times as much as his closest competitor.
But Trump’s endorsement didn’t keep other Republicans from backing other candidates, such as Kentucky senator Rand Paul backing former state representative Ron Hood while Stivers supported state representative Jeff LaRe. The two were tightly bunched for second behind Carey. Trump stepped up his efforts on behalf of Carey in the final days of the campaign in order to avoid another blemish on his endorsement record and a pro-Trump super PAC spent over $300,000 on television ads on behalf of the former president’s favored candidate.
The results Tuesday showed that the most popular figures in their respective parties still have coattails. Both districts are safe in general elections but, for now, the most popular figure in each political party can still swing primary elections.