Ohio Special Election Opens Door to New Squad Member

Self-described socialist Nina Turner holds strong lead in crowded primary

June 3, 2021

President Joe Biden's decision to appoint former Ohio congresswoman Marcia Fudge to his cabinet has Democrats poised to send another self-described socialist to Congress.

Liberal firebrand Nina Turner holds a sizable polling and fundraising lead in the crowded primary race to succeed Fudge. The former state senator is backed by a who's who of congressional progressives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), and Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.).

Should Turner maintain her advantage and win the August primary, she would fit right in with the so-called Squad members. The former national co-chair of Sanders's presidential campaign, Turner has pledged to pass the Green New Deal, eliminate private health insurance through a government-run Medicare for All system, cancel student debt, and "completely reimagine" law enforcement—in part by defunding police.

Turner's frontrunner status reflects the growing influence of the Democratic Party's progressive wing. Just months ago, Ocasio-Cortez and company welcomed two new Squad members after Reps. Cori Bush (D., Mo.) and Jamaal Bowman (D., N.Y.) ousted longstanding Democratic incumbents in 2020. Bush and Bowman's freshman class also includes fellow liberal representatives Mondaire Jones (D., N.Y.), Ritchie Torres (D., N.Y.), and Marie Newman (D., Ill.), all of whom replaced veteran party members in January.

Turner's campaign on Tuesday used a Tulchin Research poll to declare the progressive "the favorite to serve as OH-11's next Congressperson." According to the poll, Turner enjoys a 35-point lead over her closest competitor, with 21 percent undecided. Ohio State University political scientist Paul Beck said that while the poll's accuracy is difficult to assess, Turner is the "most visible candidate" and has "emerged as the frontrunner in the campaign."

"My bet would be right now that [Turner is] the person who is going to get the nomination—and win the contest in November," he said.

One veteran political operative took Beck's assessment a step further, saying "there's no scenario in which Turner doesn't win this thing handily."

Turner in 2014 mounted a failed bid for Ohio secretary of state, losing to incumbent Republican Jon Husted by 25 points. After supporting Sanders in the 2016 presidential election, she became president of Our Revolution, a nonprofit political group founded by the Vermont socialist. The self-proclaimed "justice warrior" quickly moved to attack the "establishment side of the Democratic Party." Turner said the Democratic National Committee was not "smart enough, humble enough" to "really listen to the people" and chastised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for "facing continued losses" and losing "touch with its base."

Our Revolution's fundraising totals took a nosedive under Turner. Group board members accused Turner of "using her position to prepare for a presidential run of her own" and to "settle scores with the Democratic National Committee from 2016," according to Politico. Just months into her tenure as president, the group lost nearly $250,000 to an email scam that took leadership weeks to discover.

In addition to Sanders and the Squad, Turner is backed by Reps. Ro Khanna (D., Calif.), Katie Porter (D., Calif.), and Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), as well as Justice Democrats, the progressive group that helped propel Ocasio-Cortez to political prominence in 2018. Turner has used the national attention to raise more than $1.5 million—nearly $1 million more than the primary's second-best fundraiser, Cuyahoga County Democratic Party chair Shontel Brown.

Justice Democrats also waded into an Ohio Democratic primary in 2020, backing liberal Morgan Harper's failed bid to unseat Rep. Joyce Beatty (D., Ohio), a five-term incumbent and Congressional Black Caucus member. Beatty endorsed Brown over Turner in February.

Turner, Brown, and 11 other Democrats will square off on August 3, with the winner expected to prevail in the November general election.