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When Hillary Clinton endorsed Nina Turner’s main opponent last week, it was much more than just an attempt to boost a corporate Democrat. Clinton’s praise for candidate Shontel Brown was almost beside the point. Like other power brokers and the big-money PACs now trying to sway the special election for a vacant congressional seat in northeast Ohio, Clinton is doing what she can to keep the deeply progressive Turner out of Congress.
Time is short. Polling shows Turner with a big lead, early voting begins in two weeks, and Election Day is August 3. What scares the political establishment is what energizes her supporters: She won’t back down when social justice is at stake.
That reality was clearly audible Tuesday night during the first debate of the campaign, sponsored by the City Club of Cleveland. “I am running to be a voice for change, to uplift the downtrodden, including the poor, the working poor and the barely middle class,” Turner began. “You send me to Congress, I’m going to make sure that we tax the wealthy, make them pay their fair share, and to center the people who need it the most in this district.”
The contrast was sharp with Brown, who chairs the Democratic Party in populous Cuyahoga County. The discussion of healthcare was typical: Brown voiced a preference for a “public option,” but Turner strongly advocated Medicare for All while calling the current healthcare situation “absurd” and “asinine.” Brown sounded content to tinker with the status quo. Turner flatly declared: “The employer-based system, the commodification of healthcare, does not work in the United States of America. Almost 100 million people are either underinsured or uninsured right now.”
After Brown emphasized that “we have to be able to compromise so we can get some things done,” Turner closed with a jab at those eager to block the momentum of her campaign for Congress: “You need to have somebody that will lead this community, who does have a vision and understands being a partner does not mean being a puppet, that working with does not mean acquiescing to…. You will always know whose side I am on.”
That’s exactly the problem for the party establishment. Its backers know full well whose side Turner is on.
And so, the attacks are escalating from Brown’s campaign. It sent out a mailer — complete with an out-of-focus photo of Turner, made to look lurid — under the headline “Nina Turner Opposed President Biden and Worked Against Democrats.” A more accurate headline would have been: “Nina Turner Supported Senator Sanders and Worked Against Neoliberal Democrats.” The Brown campaign’s first TV ad, which began airing last month, features her saying that she will “work with Joe Biden… that’s different than Nina Turner.”
A former editorial page editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Brent Larkin, wrote: “Brown will be a well-financed candidate with deep-pocketed supporters who aren’t afraid to play rough. That’s because Turner can’t be beaten unless opponents plant seeds of doubt about her fitness, convincing voters her harsh criticisms of President Joe Biden would make it impossible for her to get things done for her community. The notion that Biden might punish a constituency important to him because Turner represents that constituency in Congress is far-fetched. During the 2020 campaign, Sen. Kamala Harris was bitterly critical of Biden’s civil rights record. Nevertheless, Biden chose her as his running mate, effectively rewarding her with the vice presidency.”
Brown’s backers are eager to “play rough” because corporate power is at issue. It’s not only that Turner crisscrossed the nation, speaking eloquently in support of both of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns, serving as a national co-chair during the last one. Powerful backers of the Democratic Party’s top leadership — cozy and enmeshed with corporate America and the military-industrial complex — realize that “Congresswoman Nina Turner (D-OH)” would significantly increase the leverage of genuinely progressive members of the House. For the Clinton wing of the party, that would be a frigging nightmare.
As the marquee anti-Turner candidate, Brown is leaving the more blatant smears to outfits like the “Protecting Our Vote PAC” (which spent $41,998 in the last cycle in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat now-Congresswoman Cori Bush). The super PAC has released a scurrilous attack ad via Facebook, telling viewers to “Vote for Shontel Brown” — while claiming among other things that “Nina Turner is not a real Democrat, you can’t trust her,” and she “has no respect for anyone, not even our president,” and “Nina Turner is all about Nina, she doesn’t care about Ohio, she doesn’t care about getting things done, all she cares about is making noise.”
Though some see her only as a firebrand speaker at political rallies, I was in dozens of meetings with her last year when her patient hard work was equally inspiring as she put in long hours with humility, compassion and dedication. I saw her as the real deal when we were colleagues for several months while she worked with RootsAction.org as a strategic delegate advisor for the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
Recalling how she works behind the scenes, I can understand even more why the party establishment is so anxious to block her entry to Congress. While Turner is a seasoned legislator — she served on the Cleveland City Council and in the Ohio Senate for a total of nine years – she’s committed to the meticulous and sometimes tedious work of organizing and coalition-building that, in the long run, can make all the difference for progressive change.
The day that Clinton made her endorsement of Brown, a tweet from Turner served as an apt retort. Saying that she was “proud to be running a campaign focused on the issues that matter most to working people,” Turner added: “My district knows all too well that the politics of yesterday are incapable of delivering the change we desperately need.”
The next day, underscoring wide awareness that the corporate “politics of yesterday” must not be the politics of tomorrow, the Turner campaign announced that it raised six figures in under 24 hours; Clinton’s intervention had been a blessing. Overall, at last report, the Turner campaign has received donations from 54,000 different individuals, with contributions averaging $27.
Dollars pouring into Shontel Brown’s campaign are coming from a very different political and social universe. As the Daily Poster reported this week, “business-friendly Democrats” and Washington lobbyists for huge corporations – including “Big Oil, Big Pharma, Fox News and Wall Street” — are providing big bucks to stop Nina Turner from becoming Congresswoman Turner.
Bernie Sanders described the situation clearly in a recent mass email: “The political establishment and their super PACs are lining up behind Nina’s opponent during the critical final weeks of this primary. And you can bet they will do and spend whatever it takes to try and defeat her.”
Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the author of many books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.