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Just days out from the closely watched August 3 Democratic primary contest in Ohio’s 11th congressional district, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont headlined a get-out-the-vote rally in Cleveland on Saturday for progressive candidate Nina Turner, whose grassroots campaign is facing an establishment opponent backed by high-profile party leaders and corporate cash.
In his keynote speech at the event, Sanders spotlighted Turner’s ambitious policy platform and argued that—if she prevails in the special election against Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Chair Shontel Brown—the Ohio progressive would play a significant role ushering much-needed legislation through the narrowly divided Congress.
“Nina will stand with me in saying that today, we’ve got to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing aids, and eyeglasses,” said the Vermont senator. “But Nina knows… that we have got to go further than that, and join every other industrial country—guarantee healthcare to all through a Medicare for All, single-payer program.”
Sanders went on to note “the incredible amount of money that the powerful special interests of this country are spending trying to defeat Nina.” As The Intercept reported earlier this week, well-heeled donors “with long histories of support for Republican candidates” are bankrolling Brown’s campaign either directly or through Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), a political action committee that has resorted to falsely portraying Turner as an opponent of a higher minimum wage, universal healthcare, and immigration reform.
“Why is it that the drug companies, the insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry, and Wall Street, and people who supported Donald Trump are pouring millions of dollars into this campaign to defeat Nina Turner?” Sanders asked Saturday. “And the answer is pretty simple: They know that when she is elected, she is going to stand up and take them on in the fight for justice.”
The rally also featured speeches by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Cornel West, one of the nation’s foremost public intellectuals.
“Who’s willing to serve everyday people? Nina Turner,” West said in his characteristically fiery remarks, grabbing and pointing to an audience member’s campaign sign.
“She represents the best of love, of freedom, of wounded-healing, of joy-spreading, and that is a moral and a spiritual achievement that’s not just about politics,” West continued. “And that’s why we can say to some of our brothers and sisters who are part of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party with their milquetoast neoliberalism: We want vision, integrity, we want a focus on the least of these, the poor, the working class, everyday people.”
The special election to fill the seat left vacant by former Rep. Marcia Fudge—who is now serving as head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development—has become a proxy battle between national progressive forces and the Democratic establishment, which has thrown its support behind Brown in the waning days of the campaign.
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, endorsed Brown late last month, just two weeks after erstwhile Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton announced her support for the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party chair. Clyburn is reportedly flying into Ohio this weekend to stump for Brown.
Turner, meanwhile, has won the backing of prominent progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the youth-led Sunrise Movement, Justice Democrats, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus.
According to OpenSecrets, the special election is shaping up to be the most expensive House race of the year. Turner “has held a consistent fundraising lead, raising $3.8 million total,” the outlet noted last week in an analysis of campaign finance data. Turner’s campaign has touted its strong support from small-dollar donors.
“Turner’s top supporters included the Service Employees International Union PAC, the Amalgamated Transit Union PAC, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, contributing $5,000 each,” OpenSecrets found. “She also received support from the Medicare for All PAC, a leadership PAC associated with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and the Rooted in Community Leadership PAC.”
As the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last weekend, “much of Brown’s support this election has been aided by the Israel lobby.”
“Aside from DMFI PAC, more than $536,000 of Brown’s total fundraising has come through Pro-Israel America PAC,” the newspaper observed. “Another pro-Israel PAC, NORPAC, has collected around $49,000 for Brown.”
In her speech at Saturday’s rally, Turner declared that her “people-centered agenda has some people very afraid,” pointing to the super PACs attacking her campaign.
“Why are they spending all that money on little ol’ me? I just want to know. Inquiring minds want to know,” Turner said. “And I’m so glad you asked. They like the way things are now. They like it that so few people have so much and so many people have so little. They like a healthcare system that lets them pick our pockets or our pocketbooks and people can’t get healthcare. They profit from a system of tax cuts for the rich. They do not want an America as good as its promise, and they are investing millions to ensure that our voices are silenced.”
“Well let me tell you something 11th congressional district,” Turner continued. “We’re going to make sure that they understand that big money can’t defeat big ideas and conscious-minded people.”
Following the rally, Turner, Sanders, West, and Ellison led a march to the polls, which are currently open for early voting.