On Tuesday night, there was a special election primary for two congressional districts in Ohio. The result – a victory for the establishment-preferred Democrat Shontel Brown over progressive favorite Nina Turner – caused quite a nice stir on Twitter and in progressive spheres. But in the actual numbers there is a story. That’s quite clear: progressives could have won this race, but Nina Turner herself blew it.
Turner’s Problematic Past
Now, I think there are a lot of clear reasons of why Nina Turner was a problematic standard bearer for progressives in this district. But I’m going to focus on two: her past actions and an inability to have the right answer in key situations.
The first one comes down to past flirtations with third parties. First, the contested and controversial Democratic primary for president in 2016 saw Turner put into the spotlight as a real bomb thrower. Unhappy with the DNC’s actions in the race, her reaction to that included openly telling folks to not vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election. It also saw Turner openly campaign for Green Party nominee Jill Stein and consider becoming Stein’s VP. Then, in 2020, Turner gave support to and spoke with the very online movement to create a new “People’s Party”. All of this brought a ton of questions with her loyalty to the Democratic Party, something that’s a major negative in a seat as blue such as this.
The second issue reared its head in the final weeks of the primary. Not only did Turner call out Jim Clyburn unnecessarily, but even more crucially, she couldn’t say if she voted for Joe Biden. Not even in the final moments could she directly say “I voted for Joe Biden”. That’s not a good thing to do when you’re running in a seat that voted for a President, who is very popular with Democratic voters, at a nearly 80%-20% clip. That was a major miscalculation and error in the final hours of a race where the momentum was going hard against her. She gave the wrong answer in a major scenario, and it’s a key reason to why she lost.
The Outside Influences
Now, I would be remiss to say that Turner’s campaign was poor. It was not. Even I have to admit, it was a well run, energetic campaign that had a good amount of support. The activists who ran her campaign are not to blame. However, neither is the outside spending that came against her. While certainly many outside spenders came in against Turner in this race, it’s important to note she had raised much more money than Brown. However, too little of that money went in the way of advertising and going after Brown. Instead, it felt like Turner and her campaign made the decision to play defense and focus on the ground game.
I feel there should have been little surprise from the Turner campaign and herself that there was such a blowback from outside, establishment groups. Turner knows how she’s perceived and the statements she’s said. There needed to be a better game plan, not just from her campaign, but from Turner herself, on how to push back on those outside attacks. The punch-back just was not there.
Turner Lost the Race Herself
In the end though, the real issue of this race was Turner herself. She had too much of a past as a bomb thrower up loyal to the party, and it convinced enough of the primary electorate to vote against her. I have no doubts that a progressive, very left-wing candidate will represent this district eventually, especially as white Democrats become more left-wing. But Nina Turner is not that candidate for progressives in Ohio, and candidates in her style shouldn’t be the standard for progressives anywhere. A willingness to be disloyal, especially in a very close House, will not be tolerated, and it wasn’t tolerated in Ohio’s 11th district this past week.