Democrats in Northeast Ohio’s 11th Congressional District have nominated a likely successor to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge after a bitter primary race resurrected old antagonism between the party’s progressive wing and the dominant establishment faction that prevailed in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic presidential primaries.
Nina Turner, a former state senator and co-chair of the 2020 presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was soundly defeated by Shontel Brown, the chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party.
In a foreboding display that shows the weakness of most anti-establishment candidacies when pitted against better-financed albeit less ambitious opposition, Brown soundly defeated Turner. While Turner’s federal disclosure reports say she spend less money than the victor, Brown’s campaign spending was augmented by dark money groups that have latched on to the nationally-watched primary.
Brown and Turner were the top vote-getters among 13 Democrats running in the 11th District, which includes part of Cleveland and runs south to Akron, where the winner of the primary is expected to easily win the Nov. 2 special election in the Democratic district. As the two women emerged as frontrunners, national observers described the race as a battle between the progressive and establishment wings of the party.
Turner captured almost as many vote as Sanders got in the district in his 2016 bid for the White House, or 43,629
Modern liberalism began during the Progressive Era and since 1900, it has contributed to the Democratic Party’s greatest achievements and longest stretches in power.
“Liberalism has been the governing philosophy of the Democratic Party since Franklin D. Roosevelt, if not Woodrow Wilson: a doctrine of liberty, equality, justice and individual rights that relies, in the modern age, on a strong federal government for enforcement,” said historian David Greenberg.
Today, progressives are often considered synonymous with liberals but are sometimes considered to be more ambitious and less tolerant of the concessions and compromises made by moderates.
The Democratic Party’s left-wing insurgency was ignited with the 2016 campaign for Sanders, who won primaries and caucuses in 22 states but with a few exceptions, voters have been favoring establishment candidates over more liberal challengers in most races since then.
Missouri’s Cori Bush, a 44-year-old Black Lives Matter activist, became the fifth left-wing Democrat to oust an incumbent member of Congress from her party since the start of Trump’s presidency and Michigan Squad member Rep. Rashida Tlaib easily fended off a primary challenger for her Detroit House seat in Congress.
In the summer of 2018, Hispanic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Black Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) defeated a pair of White incumbents with more than 40 years combined tenure in districts that had quickly diversified.
Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) lost to insurgent primary challengers in 2020 primaries. Jamaal Anthony Bowman now represents New York’s 16th congressional district and Marie Newman replaced the Blue Dog Coalition member in Illinois’s 3rd congressional district.
Such isolated victories have not been enough to convince the Biden administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to embrace a more aggressive agenda on health care and climate issues.
Progressive Democrats were incensed after the White House passed the buck and Congress adjourned for its summer vacation just before a national moratorium on evictions expired.
Housing is one of many issues on which the left wing wants to see action while the political establishment is comfortable raking in campaign contributions from landlords, developers and real estate speculators.
Brown’s victory is likely to dampen any effort to ramp up advocacy of the bold progressive agenda that reflects a modern take on FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign plus the environmental remedies that create an intersection for climate, jobs, and justice.
“Instead of big changes, we can expect the Biden administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pursue big compromises, big surrenders and big capitulation,” said Lisa McCormick, a progressive activist in New Jersey. “They will talk about the right issues and propose some of the right policies, but they won’t do the job greedy leaders in corporate America do not want them to do.”
“The establishment Democrats will say they tried, but as Winston S. Churchill once said, ‘Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you must do what is required’. If Democrats fail to do what is required, the Republicans will cheat and spend their way back into power and we will all be in trouble,” said McCormick, who vowed to labor in support of policies the political insiders hope to resist, such as campaign finance reform, Medicare for All, and the Green New Deal.
In 2019, the Pew Research Center found that 47% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters identify as liberal or very liberal, while 51% identify as moderate, conservative, or very conservative.