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Lessons From The Nina Turner Race?

"I am going to work hard to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen to another progressive candidate again. We didn’t lose this race, evil money manipulated and maligned this election."

-Nina Turner, in her concession speech last night

I admit, I don't know much about Shontel Brown. She was never the point; Nina was. The Israel lobby got another scalp of another Black progressive daring to challenge it. A little history... In 2002, Earl Hilliard, the first Black person to have served Alabama in Congress since Reconstruction, was getting close to a decade of seniority. The year before, Hilliard voted against a bill funding increases in military support to Israel and opposing criminalization of Palestinians. He was defeated by a shameless, AIPAC-financed political hack and careerist, Artur Davis, a viciously homophobic Blue Dog who voted against Obamacare, switched to the GOP, then back to the Democratic Party again to run, unsuccessfully, for office again and then back to the GOP. Davis was followed by another obedient, conservative Democrat, New Dem Terri Sewell.

In 1992, the same year Hilliard had been elected to Congress, Cynthia McKinney became the first-ever Black woman to represent Georgia in the House. In 2002, AIPAC got her too and replaced her with another pointless hack, Denise Majette, who was heavily supported by white Republicans in the black majority district. McKinney ran and won again two years later. In 2006 she was forced into a runoff with DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson, who beat her and isn't a bad member the way Artur Davis and Terri Sewell have been. Still, Israel was rid of a very sharp thorn in its side.

And that brings us to last night, where another pointless-- and corrupt-- establishment hack, Shontel Brown, was declared the winner for the open congressional seat in Cleveland/Akron by around 4,000 votes, Brown's big spending allies having appealed to white Republicans to stop Nina in the open primary. (Last year, the Republican congressional candidate in the district won 60,323 votes.)

Even before Nina was defeated, the establishment was gleeful. Ben Jacobs wrote on Monday morning that the OH-11 race was all about the rotted corrupt, status quo-supporting Democratic establishment (he didn't call characterize it that way)-- Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, the Blue Dogs-- vs the forces of progress and Justice. "Brown’s pitch," wrote Jacobs, "is focused on one issue; Nina Turner is not showing enough support for Joe Biden... Brown’s brought in surrogates with strong ties to Biden like House Whip Jim Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina, whose endorsement helped make Biden the Democratic nominee... Turner’s electoral liabilities are less about taking more left policy positions than they are about her past attacks on Democratic Party leaders. Biden may not hold big rallies or inspire the sort of fanatical following that Trump does, but he’s a very popular figure in his party, especially among African American voters."

Nina Turner's congressional endorsements:

  • Bernie Sanders

  • Ed Markey

  • AOC

  • Ilhan Omar

  • Cori Bush

  • Ayanna Pressley

  • Rashida Tlaib

  • Ted Lieu

  • Jamaal Bowman

  • Mondaire Jones

  • Katie Porter

  • Jamie Raskin

  • Pramila Jayapal

  • Andy Levin

  • Ro Khanna

  • Mark Pocan

Shontel Brown's congressional endorsements, some of the worst garbage wandering the halls of Congress, many with their hands in the pockets of lobbyists doing harm to their own constituents:

  • Jim Clyburn

  • Joyce Beatty (the payday lending bag lady)

  • Josh Gottheimer

  • Pete Aguilar

  • Greg Meeks

  • Ted Deutch (Likud-FL)

  • Brad Schneider

  • David Trone

  • Bennie Thompson

  • Troy Carter

Brown was also backed by the New Dems, the Congressional Black Caucus, Mark Mellman's Democratic Majority for Israel (generously financed by Big Oil), Jewish Democratic Council of America, and Pro-Israel America. Last week, The Intercept reported that "donors with long histories of support for Republican candidates are now funding Brown’s campaign, either directly or via the political action committee Democratic Majority for Israel, a major backer of her campaign. Most notable among them is New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a close ally of Donald Trump who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration and has supported a slew of Republican candidates... Kraft has individually donated the election maximum $5,800 to Brown’s campaign, and with his family contributed more than $20,000... Democratic Majority for Israel, a hybrid PAC/super PAC that has spent $1.2 million on ads supporting Brown and opposing Turner in the election, also has a slew of donors who have made ample donations to Republican candidates and causes. Leonard Feinstein, who donated $25,000 to DMFI on June 14, has made large contributions to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Republican Party of Cuyahoga County, and to committees supporting Republican Rick Berg’s 2012 campaign for Senate in North Dakota. Steven Fishman, who donated $20,000 to DMFI on June 14, made over $10,000 in campaign contributions to Republicans running in 2020, including Lindsey Graham, Jim Risch, Mike Rounds, and Michael McCaul. He also donated $1,800 to Brown."

David Heller, a Cleveland-area real estate executive, donated $10,000 to DMFI on February 23 and also donated $2,800 to Brown. Heller, who has been an avid supporter of Republicans in Ohio and in Texas, donated over $13,000 to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine in 2020, as well as $5,000 to Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, who is leading the push to restrict voting rights in that state.
Neil Kadisha, who donated $2,000 to Brown on June 1 and $18,000 to DMFI on June 14, donated to Trump’s reelection campaign in 2019, as well as to then-Vice President Mike Pence’s PAC. In 2012, Kadisha made large donations to both the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Some Republican donors have not supported Brown directly but have poured funding into DMFI. David Horowitz, an executive at the New York school cafeteria food company Tasty Brands, donated $10,000 to DMFI on June 7. In 2020, he donated $25,000 to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, as well as making maxed-out contributions to losing Georgia Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
Philip De Toledo, the president of the Capital Group, donated $50,000 to DMFI on June 8, 2020. De Toledo donated over $25,000 in campaign contributions to Republicans running in the 2020 elections, including right-wing Reps. Patrick McHenry and Jim Risch.
Victor Kohn, another Capital Group executive who donated $100,000 to DMFI from his family trust on June 10, spent over $10,000 in the 2020 cycle supporting Republicans Mike Rounds, Bill Cassidy, Cynthia Lummis, Ben Sasse, and Kay Granger.

And how did they spend all that conservative loot? The same way they always spend it against progressives: lying and smearing... in this case circulating mailers falsely claiming Nina is an opponent of a higher minimum wage, universal healthcare, and immigration reform, all positions she strongly backs.

One of Nina's early backers, Marianne Williamson, told me this morning that "Turner’s defeat feels like it might be the final nail in the coffin, an end to any illusion that corporatist Democratic leadership will allow a progressive to get anywhere near the seat of power. It’s like they feel they were out-maeuvered by the squad getting past the gates and they’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen again. They used every trick in the book, every cheap and nasty and corrupt tool in their toolbox, to defeat Nina's extraordinary American voice for the people and instead bring in a party pol who will presumably do as she is told. Where we go with that I’m not sure. But after two elections in which Bernie’s candidacies were suppressed, my own experience as a presidential candidate, and now Nina’s defeat at the hands of their shenanigans, I’m at the point you come to in any relationship when you realize the other person isn’t going to change and it’s ridiculous to think they will."

She said that she'll "continue to work hard for grassroots Democratic candidates. But we need to start thinking about 2024 and this makes it clear that all Democrats will be willing to offer is a Biden, Harris, Amy, Pete, or some facsimile thereof; any progressive running for the nomination will be on a fool’s errand. Once again, I don’t know the answer. But according to the poet Rilke, when you don’t know the answer you simply live the question. The answer will come. In the meantime, my heart is with Nina today. She fought the good fight. She didn’t win the political war but she won the moral one. She stood up for the people, she stood up for justice and she stood up for love." Please consider helping Marianne support progressive candidates by clicking on the thermometer above and contributing what you can.

One of those candidates is Alexandra Hunt, running against a garden variety status quo Democratic incumbent. Today Hunt told me that "Nina’s race demonstrates the corruption of the establishment and just how far they’ll go to maintain power with a spread of lies and manipulative tactics. Progressive power comes from hope & our relentless belief in a better world (and certainly not from a lack of integrity). Nina Turner’s run is inspirational. More of us need to run and run hard. Winning an election is a stepping stone-- the mission is to bring down the machine. My takeaway from Nina’s race is how important it is for progressives to work together as a team and just how concerned the establishment is of the left gaining power. It means we’re close."

Alan Grayson has a strong sense of history. This morning he suggested we ask "these right-wing Democrats-- who take such pride in beating a progressive-- what plan they have for avoiding the Great New Dem Apocalypse next year. They have no plan." Yeah... but at least they beat Nina, a powerful advocate for working families.

Another strong progressive is Mayor Bryan Osorio, who is taking on David Valadao in the Central Valley of California. "As we continue to hear and read about Ohio’s Democratic primary results, I hope we don’t forget about the significance of Nina Turner’s exceptional ability to energize young voters and volunteers. She represents a growing base of progressive candidates that stand up to corporate interests and understand Americans’ frustration with status quo politics. And, as we ask ourselves, how are we going to win in 2022? It means reflecting on how Democrats can acknowledge the significance of progressive politics and candidates. Young people simply don’t represent 2022 voters. They represent voters of future elections where environmental disasters, the student debt crisis, the housing crisis, and other issues will continue dominating political rhetoric if bold policies aren’t supported now. Yesterday’s results might seem like a loss to the progressive movement, but we know it’s far from over. In districts all across the country, we will continue fighting and advocating until more of us are in Congress fighting for working-class families and our futures."

Jason Call, who is flying back to Washington state and his own congressional campaign today, after spending a week canvassing with Nina, noted that "The establishment has corporate money and character assassination, and apparently that’s good enough to muddy the waters and sway public opinion. Ohio’s 11th passed on the opportunity to have a real champion for the working class, the poor, and marginalized communities. We will have to pause and do some deep analysis on what happened and why. Being on the ground here for over a week, I truly believed this was a winnable seat. My concern now is that whatever we do to rebound from this includes some solidarity building on the left, and to not let a loss like this further divide us."

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