Democratic Party moderates and the pro-Israel community heaved a deep, satisfied sigh of relief following last week’s come-from-behind victory of Shontel Brown over Nina Turner in the Cleveland-area Democratic primary race to succeed HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge as the representative for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District. Given the district’s demographics — which includes a large portion of Cleveland’s Jewish community — Brown is heavily favored to win the seat in November’s general election.
But the primary race was close. And there was a lot going on in the race. It pitted the rising and increasingly active progressive wing of the Democratic Party against it more moderate center — complete with competing endorsements from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for Turner, his former presidential campaign co-chair, and Hillary Clinton for Brown. Similar endorsements were offered by other well-known and well-respected leaders in each camp.
And then there were the respective positions of Turner and Brown on issues relating to the State of Israel. Brown is an outspoken supporter of the Jewish state and “its right to defend its citizens.” Turner is understood to be less supportive, particularly given her call for imposing conditions on the use of military aid to Israel and her retweet of a social media post accusing Israel of apartheid.
For many, the primary race in Ohio-11 became another round in the national referendum on the future of the Democratic Party. The moderates won this one. But no one thinks the battle is over. The struggle for identity and control of the party will continue.
In the Brown-Turner race, there is wide recognition that House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) made a difference. Clyburn is a respected centrist voice in the Democratic Party and is the highest ranking African American legislator on Capitol Hill. His opinions matter. Clyburn not only endorsed Brown, but he travelled to Ohio shortly before election day and actively campaigned for her. This isn’t Clyburn’s first such success. He is widely acknowledged as the person who resuscitated Joe Biden’s floundering campaign for president in early 2020 when he endorsed the former vice president prior to the South Carolina primary. And he made a difference for Brown.
The campaign also saw the significant infusion of funding from pro-Israel political action committees (which responded to similar funding from national progressive sources) and the strong, unified support of Cleveland’s influential and active Jewish community. That combination of factors helped Brown, and she was appreciative of it. Indeed, in her emotional speech the night she won, Brown went out of her way to “thank my Jewish brothers and sisters” for helping her achieve her upset victory.
We expect to see similar, no-holds barred contests between progressives and moderates in the coming elections. Each side believes it is fighting for the soul of the party. That may be true. But, as we move closer to the 2022 mid-term elections, we wonder whether swing voters will be willing to get behind a party that is at war with itself.