June 17, 2024

If Democratic voters feel a sense of deja vu Tuesday, it’s for good reason. For the second time in less than a year, residents of Ohio’s 11th Congressional District headed to the polls to decide between challenger Nina Turner and now-incumbent Rep. Shontel Brown. 

“Phone banking, text banking, door knocking, we’re doing everything we can to call and make sure people are aware this election is happening,” Brown told CBS News. The freshman lawmaker is defending her seat after defeating Turner by roughly six percentage points in a special election last November. 

Turner, a former state senator who also served as the co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, is also pulling out all the stops. She described herself as “unbought and unbossed” in the mold of the pioneering late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.

 “We’re feeling the excitement on the ground is palpable,” Turner said in an interview with CBS News.  

Nina Turner, left, and Shontel Brown

AP Photo/Phil Long, AP Photo/Tony Dejak

On the eve of the Democratic primary, Turner picked up the endorsement of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who canvassed for Turner during her first bid. A spokeswoman for  progressive congresswoman confirmed the endorsement to CBS News. 

“Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is a leader in the fight for climate justice, workers rights and building a multi-generational, multi-racial working-class democracy,” Turner tweeted

It represents a split between Ocasio-Cortez and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, whose PAC supported Brown. The group ran ads for Turner’s 2021 campaign.

“The Congressional Progressive Caucus is going to have to answer to why, you know, less than eight months later they’re endorsing somebody else,” said Turner. . “People are co-opting the word progressive now. We got a lot of PINO’s out there…a lot of progressives in name only kind of thing, but the CPC has to deal with that.”

Brown said her record as a progressive speaks for itself. 

“I’m not sure why it would spark backlash because again my voting record is one of the most progressive in the entire congressional body,” Brown retorted. “I certainly have progressive values, supported legislation of my colleagues around environmental justice, criminal justice reform, voting rights, affordable health care for everyone, so these are things that perfectly align with my values and my voting record.”

Brown has also racked up endorsements from President Biden and top Democrats, including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries who stumped with her over the weekend. 

“Absolutely his (President Biden’s) endorsement makes a difference,” Brown touted. “He’s still very popular here in Cuyahoga County and the 11th Congressional district.”

Both candidates will also face a different electorate this year since their last faceoff. Redistricting has reshaped the Cleveland-area district although it remains predominantly Democratic. Legal challenges to the GOP-drawn map have also complicated matters that could force the state to hold another primary..

“It is a very hard thing to combat and the voters of this state should not bear the burden,” Turner explained. “I actually see this as a form of voter suppression.” 

Brown shares concerns about the impact on voter turnout. 

“Many of them aren’t even aware that an election is happening because of all the confusion around the maps and quite frankly, there has been little effort from the state to notify people of the redistricting process,” Brown said.

The primary winner will face Republican challenger Eric Brewer, a former mayor of East Cleveland, or political novice James Hemphill this fall although the seat is generally considered safe despite national headwinds for Democrats in the midterms. 

“I know history and statistics may say that, you know, there’s a good chance that the Democrats will go into the minority, but I am an eternal optimist,” Brown projected.

“I’m very concerned about that and I think the Democrats can turn that around”, Turner stated. “We want to talk about kitchen table issues but guess what, some people don’t have a kitchen table. They don’t have that kind of security  and so we have to reach well beyond what we think is the norm and get outside of that bubble and really touch people where they are.” 

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