Pro-Israel Democrat Shontel Brown Defeats Progressive Nina Turner in Ohio Democratic Primary

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Democratic Congressional Candidate Shontel Brown speaks Cleveland, Ohio, July 2021.
Democratic Congressional Candidate Shontel Brown speaks Cleveland, Ohio, July 2021.Credit: Michael M. Santiago - AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Shontel Brown narrowly defeated Nina Turner in Tuesday's hotly contested Democratic primary for the special House election in Ohio, widely considered the latest battleground for the party's center-left divide – a divide that is not explicitly focused on Israel, though undoubtedly includes it. 

Voters in Ohio's solidly blue 11th district opted for Brown, a pro-Israel leader in the Ohio party apparatus with strong ties to the Democratic establishment, over Turner, an outspoken progressive who came to national prominence as a Bernie Sanders surrogate. 

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Brown thanked her "Jewish brothers and sisters" during her victory remarks, adding how her 2018 trip to Israel gave her insight into the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Turner, meanwhile, said she was "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.”

The northern Ohio district, which includes much of Cleveland and bits of Akron, is home to the state’s largest Jewish community; just over 20,000 Jewish voters make up about 5 percent of the general electorate. 

Turnout in parts of the district with relatively large Jewish populations, however, nearly doubled overall turnout in the primary. "That's the story here – the Jewish vote made the difference for [Brown]," said Jewish Democratic Council for America CEO Halie Soifer.

Turner had been the front runner for much of the campaign, at one point even holding a 35-point lead – largely based on her national recognition as a Sanders surrogate – and received the endorsement of essentially every noteworthy progressive Democratic lawmaker in Congress. Brown subsequently received an influx of support from national party establishment figures, as well as from Jewish organizations such as the JDCA and, perhaps most vocally, the Democratic Majority for Israel and Pro-Israel America.

Congressional candidate Nina Turner speaks during a 'Get Out the Vote' canvassing event, August 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. Credit: Michael M. Santiago - AFP

DMFI called it a "tremendous victory, not only for Councilwoman Brown personally, but also for the pro-Biden-Harris, pro-Israel majority in the Democratic Party."

While Turner's campaign outspent Brown's, DMFI in particular invested heavily in Brown, concerned about Turner's criticisms of Biden and Israeli policy, respectively. Brown’s views on Israel are in line with the party center, while Turner doesn’t want U.S. taxpayers funding Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

DMFI spent nearly $2 million on the campaign – believed to be nearly more than all other outside spending combined. Turner's supporters roundly criticized DMFI's tactics and messaging, arguing that it was using large sums of money to spread misleading information about Turner's positions and using Israel as a wedge issue to distract voters from other policy debates of importance.

DMFI has defended both its fundraising and materials, saying it exclusively gives to Democratic candidates while none of the information it has put out has been disputed.

The seat became vacant after U.S. President Joe Biden appointed Rep. Marcia Fudge as secretary of housing and urban development. Brown is all but assured to win the general election in November. Her victory adds to the Democrats' razor-thin majority in Congress, undoubtedly aiding the party's ability to pursue its agenda.

Pro-Israel America Executive Director Jeff Mendelsohn said Brown's victory "proves once again that support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is not only good policy, but good politics," adding that "Brown rejected the divisive politics of her opponent and, as voters learned more about Brown and her policy positions throughout the race, they increasingly supported her campaign."

Justice Democrats Communications Director Waleed Shahid implicitly criticized DMFI's spending following the results, saying "Republican-funded foreign policy hawks spent nearly $2 million to stop the number of House members supporting conditions on aid to Israel from growing to a whopping 31 out of 435."

IfNotNow echoed Shahid's comments, saying that "a PAC created to defend Israeli apartheid – funded by GOP donors and fossil fuel billionaires – essentially bought a congressional seat against a progressive working class champion."

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