Pro-Israel Democrat Shontel Brown defeated socialist would-be Squad member Nina Turner in a heated primary on Tuesday, dealing an electoral rebuke to the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic party.
Brown, a county councilwoman who ran as a less extreme alternative to the unabashedly progressive Turner, was up by 6 percentage points when the Associated Press called the race just before 11:00 p.m. In a victory speech delivered Tuesday night, Brown expressed strong support for the alliance between the United States and Israel, which played a large role in the Democratic primary election.
"When you see a person who has a firecracker that's been dropped by a drone near the Gaza Strip, and you are within a few feet of a bomb shelter, you can appreciate the vulnerability of a state," Brown said in a speech captured by Jewish Insider. "That has given me the understanding of the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship. So I thank my Jewish brothers and sisters."
The race reflected Democrats' fierce intraparty conflict regarding Israel. Turner has professed "solidarity" with the Palestinian people and endorsed conditioning aid to the Jewish state, which drew the attention of pro-Israel Democrats. Advocacy group Democratic Majority for Israel spent at least $714,000 backing Brown, who labeled the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement anti-Semitic and expressed support for Israel's "right to defend its citizens" from terrorist groups.
In her Tuesday night concession speech, Turner blamed the race on "evil money" spent in support of Brown.
"We didn't lose this race, evil money manipulated and maligned this election," Turner said, according to National Journal reporter Kirk Bado.
The result comes as a major blow to the so-called Squad. Turner centered her campaign around her support for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and an effort to "completely reimagine" law enforcement.
— Jewish Insider (@J_Insider) August 4, 2021
Brown, meanwhile, stressed her desire to "work with those from the farthest left to the most moderate within the party," painting herself as a strong ally of President Joe Biden. Turner—who served as a top surrogate on Bernie Sanders's 2020 presidential campaign—compared voting for Biden to eating a "bowl of shit."
Turner emerged as the primary's frontrunner in June, thanks in part to endorsements from top national progressives, including Sanders and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) and Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.).
Sanders headlined a Turner rally in Cleveland just days before the election—a decision that may have backfired in a district that has rebuffed the Vermont socialist twice already. Sanders lost the district by double digits to both Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Biden in 2020.
The party's establishment wing responded by rushing to back Brown, who landed support from failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.), and the Congressional Black Caucus PAC. While Marcia Fudge, who vacated the seat to become secretary of Housing and Urban Development, did not directly weigh in on the race, her mother called Brown "Marcia's protégé" in an ad.
The establishment onslaught against Turner proved valuable—Brown narrowed both her polling and fundraising gap in July, taking in $1.3 million from April 1 to July 14. Still, Turner's national profile allowed her to dominate the primary financially. The former Sanders surrogate raised $4.5 million for the cycle, compared with Brown's $2 million.
As the race tightened, Turner and Brown released increasingly aggressive attack ads. In one spot, Brown said Turner "has a history of attacking and lying about Democrats." In another, she pledged to "bring people together and work with Joe Biden … that's different than Nina Turner." In return, Turner aired ads highlighting a potential ethics investigation into Brown, which she said could lead to "criminal charges" and "jail time."
Brown is now the overwhelming favorite to succeed Fudge in November. Biden carried the district by 60 points in 2020.