WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, Ohio – Nina Turner had just delivered a short address at the Tabernacle Church of God’s Faith in the cadences and trembling volumes of a preacher when Reverend Timothy Eppinger called on the entire congregation to lay hands on the woman seeking the seat of the House of Greater Cleveland.
“She’s been through hell and high water,” the pastor said, nodding in agreement. “It’s his season to live and not to die.”
On August 3, voters in Ohio’s 11th District will deliver this judgment, and with it, an indication of where the Democratic Party is heading: towards the provocative and progressive approach that Ms. Turner embodies or the reserved mold of its leaders. in Washington, shaped more by the establishment than by the ferment stirring its roots.
Democrats say there is little broader meaning to this House All-Around, one that pits two black women against each other in a safe Democratic neighborhood that was represented by Marcia Fudge before that. she was not confirmed as President Biden’s secretary for housing and urban development.
Yet in the final weeks of the campaign, the party establishment is spending a lot of time and money on an effort to arrest Ms Turner, a former Cleveland councilor and Ohio state senator known to the US. beyond this district like the face and spirit of Bernie Sanders. presidential campaigns, co-chair in 2020 and ubiquitous substitute for the socialist senator.
This suggests that the leaders understand that the outcome of the race will be read as a signal for the future of the party. It has already rekindled old rivalries. The political action committee of the Congressional Black Caucus has endorsed Ms. Turner’s main rival, Shontel Brown, chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. The same goes for Hillary Clinton and the House’s most senior black member, James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, who will be campaigning here this weekend for Ms Brown. They argue that Ms Brown is the best candidate, with a unifying message after four years of division from Donald J. Trump.
Ms Brown sees herself as a Liberal, but she would take it step by step, for example embracing Mr Biden’s call to add a “public option” to the Affordable Care Act before moving straight to the health care plan at home. Single payer Medicare-for-all system that Ms. Turner wants.
“I’m not the type to fear a challenge or conflict; I’m just not looking for it, ”said Ms. Brown, who sees the differences as more style than substance. “And that’s the major difference: I’m not looking for the headlines. I am looking to progress.
In turn, Liberal activists from across the country rushed to Ms. Turner’s defense, with money, volunteers and reinforcements. His campaign raised $ 4.5 million for a primary, $ 1.3 million last month. New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be knocking on the door for her the same weekend Mr. Clyburn is in town. Mr. Sanders will join the fray in person the last weekend before Election Day.
“She would be a real asset to the House,” Mr. Sanders said. “She’s a very, very strong progressive, and I really hope she wins.”
The race captured less of an ideological divide and more of a generational split, pitting older voters discouraged by the vilification of Democratic leaders by the liberal insurgency and fiery demands for rapid change against the sense of urgency and anger of younger voters about the trajectory of the country and the current world. left to them.
At every turn here, Ms. Turner talks about the struggles of her city, the poorest large municipality in the country, but also America’s mountain of student debt, its health care inequalities and a crisis. climate that left the West parched and scorching, the ice caps are melting and Europe is emerging from a flood.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson backed Ms Turner, as did The Plain Dealer. But Ms. Brown has the most reliable voters, many of whom are older, wealthier, and white.
For Ms Turner to win, she needs people like Dewayne Williams, 31, and formerly incarcerated, who came in the rain on Saturday to the Gas on God Community Giveaway, for $ 10 worth of free gasoline in one of the most popular neighborhoods. dangerous from Cleveland.
“I’m just young, I don’t know much about politics, but I know she’s a good woman,” said Mr Williams, growing more and more moved after Ms Turner leaned into her car. to give him a hug. Given her experience in the prison system, he said, “the changes she’s trying to make – even to care a little about this situation – I really appreciate. “
“Oh man,” added Mr. Williams, “you have to have a loud voice. You have to be strong for people to hear.
The result of the special election could affect the party. The Progressive Primary Challengers have already declared – and are raising impressive sums, far more than previous challengers – to take on Reps Carolyn B. Maloney in New York City, Danny K. Davis in Chicago, John Yarmuth in Louisville, and Jim Cooper in Nashville. They hope to build on the successes of Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman in New York, Ayanna S. Pressley in Boston, Marie Newman in Chicago, and Cori Bush in St. Louis – all of whom have toppled the Democratic incumbents since 2018.
All face opposition from the Congressional Democratic Campaign Committee, the Congressional Black Caucus and a new political action committee, Team Blue, created by Representatives Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Caucus; Josh Gottheimer, a moderate from New Jersey; and Terri A. Sewell, member of the Alabama Black Caucus.
“It says a lot about where they want us to go as a party,” said Kina Collins, who challenges Mr. Davis. The message is, ‘You are not welcome, and if you try to enter, we will mobilize the resources necessary to silence you. “”
Ms Turner said she wanted the race to focus on her issues: a single-payer health care plan for everyone, a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour, student loan debt cancellation and d other centerpieces of the Sanders movement that she helped create. She said she was warned early in her candidacy that Washington Democrats would unite around a candidate “anyone but Nina”.
But on Sunday, even she seemed surprised at the bitter turn the contest had taken. The intervention of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC was particularly shocking. With the rise of liberal groups like the Justice Democrats who are dedicated to overthrowing the entrenched Democrats in safe seats, the caucus has become something of an incumbent protective service.
He supported caucus representative William Lacy Clay Jr. of Missouri in his unsuccessful attempt to sideline a black challenger, Ms Bush, last year, and Rep. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, now caucus chair. , in his successful attempt to beat a Democrat for justice.
But the PAC also backed New York City Rep. Eliot Engel, who is white, last year against his progressive challenger, Mr Bowman, who is black.
And now, inexplicably to Ms. Turner and her allies, the powerful black establishment steps into an open-seat race between two black candidates.
“I don’t blame anyone for wanting to get involved in the race,” Ms. Turner said, “but the entire Congressional Black Caucus PAC? This sends another message: Progressives don’t need to apply.”
Particularly striking is Mr. Clyburn’s high-profile intervention. In endorsing Ms Brown, Mr Clyburn said he was choosing whichever candidate he preferred, not against Ms Turner. But he spoke out against the “slogan” of the left wing of the party.
Not everyone in Cleveland appreciated the distinction.
“They want someone they can control, and they want someone to follow,” said state representative Juanita Brent, who backs Turner. She said she had a message for Mr. Clyburn: “Congressman, with all due respect, stay out of our district. “
Ms. Brown, younger than Ms. Turner, with a laid-back demeanor that doesn’t fit the Turner campaign’s description of her negative campaign, strongly objected to characterizing her as a Washington puppet.
His campaign is backed by help from SKDK, a powerful Democratic political enterprise filled with old hands from the days of Clinton and Obama. His supporters include moderate House Democrats like Mr Gottheimer, many of whom are motivated by Ms Turner’s favorable statements on Palestinian rights.
But Ms Brown insists she is not a pawn for establishment Democrats.
“You should ask the people who tried to control me,” she said. “You will find that I am an independent thinker. I’m someone who likes to put all the facts together and make an informed decision.
At Alfred Grant’s motorcycle shop in Bedford, Ohio, where Ms Brown was heading to a motorcycle muscle show on Saturday night, older black voters backed her campaign’s assessment of Ms Turner: Either you like it or you don’t really like it.
“It seems to me that Nina is more likely to work for herself than to work together,” said Roberta Reed. “I mean, I need people who are going to work together to make it all complete.”
“She’s going to help the Biden-Harris agenda; it means a lot, ”said Denise Grant, Mr Grant’s wife, of Ms Brown, bringing up her biggest talking point. “We don’t need somebody to fight with Biden over there.”
Her husband intervened, expressing weariness over the type of confrontational politics Ms. Turner has embraced. “We have had four years of madness,” he said. “Now it’s calmed down. This is how politics should be. I don’t have to watch you every day.
Ms. Turner does not shy away from this criticism. Voters can take it or leave it.
“My ancestors would never have been freed without someone who clashed with the status quo and said, ‘You will not enslave us again,’ she said.
“Martin Luther King, Minister Malcolm X, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer – I’m only giving examples of people who I’m sure believe in the status quo and wish they had been nicer,” she declared.
At the Faith of God Tabernacle, Pastor Eppinger prepared Mrs. Turner with a rousing sermon inspired by the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel.
“How long are you going to walk through dead schools, dead communities, dead governments?” he thundered. “Can these dry bones live?” “
Ms Turner, in a bright yellow gown, removed her matching bright yellow mask and replied, “All Sister Turner says is that we need someone to bring the dry bones of the world to life. city hall, to the dry bones of Congress and God bless me to go to this next place, I will continue to stand up for the poor, the working poor and the barely middle class. Can these dry bones live?
To this, the fifty or so parishioners gave an amen.