Special elections overview

The fun never ends

We’re back with our first post-2020 issue that actually, you know, feels like a regular issue! We’re taking a dive into the special elections set up by appointments announced by Joe Biden. (We won’t be talking about Kamala Harris’s Senate seat, because there is no special election for that seat; she would’ve been up for reelection in 2022 had she not become vice president.)

Speaking of which, man, it feels weird that Trump’s gone. Good fucking riddance. As much as we were never fans of Joe Biden, his presidency allows the left to really go on offense for the first time since the Sanders campaign and Black Lives Matter revitalized the American left in the mid-2010s. Lot better to be negotiating with Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi than to be constantly defending against whatever fresh atrocity Stephen Miller, Dan Scavino, and a mound of cocaine spewed forth into the world under President Trump.

Biden has nominated three members of Congress for his administration. They are all Democrats from very, very safe seats.

Cedric Richmond has been tapped to be a Senior Adviser to the President and Director of the Office of Public Engagement, whatever that means; he has already resigned and assumed his new role.

Richmond represented LA-02: most of New Orleans, the Democratic parts of suburban Jefferson Parish, Black neighborhoods in Baton Rouge, and mostly-Black rural communities in between. As he has already resigned, a special election date has been set: the first round of Louisiana’s jungle primary (in which candidates of all parties compete on one ballot, with the top two vote-getters regardless of party advancing to a runoff unless any candidate gets a majority) for LA-02 will be held on March 20. Should no candidate achieve a majority of the vote, which is likely, a second round will be held on April 24.

Marcia Fudge has been nominated for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, after openly campaigning for Secretary of Agriculture and castigating presidents of both parties’ tendencies to relegate Black Cabinet officials to certain departments, particularly HUD. She would’ve been a better Agriculture secretary, but we guess this is better than, in addition to snubbing her for Agriculture in favor of sucky centrist Tom Vilsack, also picking a white centrist for HUD? So, you know, we’ll take it. Fudge remains in Congress pending confirmation by the Senate.

Fudge represents OH-11: Cleveland, its heavily Democratic eastern suburbs, and a small part of the Akron area. The date for this special election is dependent on how quickly Fudge can be confirmed, and how much of an ass Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine decides to be. State law says there are three eligible special election dates per year: the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May, August, and November. That Tuesday in November of 2021 also covers a lot of municipal elections in the state, including Cleveland, so it makes a lot of sense to schedule the general election for this seat on that date, but Mike DeWine has given no indication about the primary so far. He could also technically choose to just push it off until 2022, but that’s a high level of pettiness, even for him.

Deb Haaland has been nominated for Secretary of the Interior. This absolutely rules. Deb Haaland is an original cosponsor of the Green New Deal, a reliable progressive vote, one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress (tied with Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids), and—should she be confirmed by the Senate—the first Indigenous person to run the Interior Department, which has broad jurisdiction over Indigenous affairs (and environmental matters, hence the significance of an original GND sponsor being nominated for the role.)

Haaland represents NM-01: Albuquerque and its suburbs. Sadly, there is not a special election for us to cover; party nominees in New Mexico special elections are chosen by county party committees, not primaries. The only contest will be the general election, which the Democratic nominee will enter as a heavy favorite to win.


LA-02

As we said earlier, Cedric Richmond has been tapped by the Biden team for some PR role. Or personnel or something? We don’t care, really, we’re just glad we’re getting rid of Cedric Richmond. Richmond has a long record of connections to the oil and gas industry, and one of the worst environmental records of any Democrats. He’s endorsed conservatives in primaries and runoffs, and at least one Republican in a general election. Then there’s his sexist joke about Kellyanne Conway, his time in the State House that includes conservative positions on immigration and sex work, his friendship with white supremacist-affiliated, “David Duke without the baggage” Rep. Steve Scalise. What we’re saying is there’s a lot of room to improve in this district.

The field to replace him seems to have settled around three candidates, for now: state Sen. Troy Carter, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, and activist Gary Chambers. Several people initially rumored to be eyeing the seat, including New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell, former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, former Rep. Cleo Fields, New Orleans City Council President Helena Moreno, and former Andrew Yang press secretary Erick Sanchez, declined to run. That’s why we’re publishing on Friday this week instead of Wednesday - filing ended about an hour ago and we wanted to know for sure who was running before sending this out.

State Sen. Troy Carter has been a state senator since 2016, spent twelve years before that as a New Orleans city councilor, and is one of the biggest political names in the city, despite his failed campaigns for mayor in 2002 and Congress in 2006. As councilor for a district that included the French Quarter, Carter was always more concerned with the tourist money it brought in than the people who lived there, and supported ruthless attempts to criminalize homelessness in the area, who he felt were too privileged. He also spent years going after independent artists who weren’t bringing in the big tax revenue. The one positive thing we can say about his time in the Council is that he has always been friendly with the city’s gay community

As a state senator, Carter has generally been in the more liberal half or so of the Democratic caucus, but in Louisiana that’s not saying much. He has a mixed record on gun control and a pretty awful one on criminal justice. Earlier this year he wrote a resolution to condemn the Defund the Police movement, saying that it would cause “irreparable and lasting damage”. While the particular position of defunding the police is not nearly as important at the federal level as at the local or state level, Carter’s targets of condemnation extended beyond just the defund movement into police reform as a whole, incorporating right-wing language about the dangers of “handcuffing” police. Yikes. (He did, at least, have the good sense to vote against the state’s Blue Lives Matter bill.)

Because Cedric Richmond is terrible, he has—somewhat predictably—endorsed Carter, who appears to be the worst option. This likely means that Richmond, at least, wants Carter to be the only candidate playing in the conservative/moderate lane. Whether Karen Carter Peterson tries to compete with him for that is an open question.

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson has been in the state legislature since 1999, and has spent that time as one of the few reliably left-leaning voices in the body. In 2006, then-state Rep. Karen Carter ran against scandal-tarred incumbent Rep. William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson for LA-02. She lost that race 56.5-43.5, despite Jefferson’s fraud investigations. She was doomed by losing the more conservative white vote quite badly, owing to Jefferson’s attacks on her support of gay marriage and abortion rights (including leading the charge for a state nondiscrimination act going back to 2004), and a campaign against her by openly racist sheriff Harry Lee, who resented her appearance in When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee’s documentary about Katrina, where she castigated him for him authoritarian, inhumane decision to block, at gunpoint, the only way out of the mostly Black eastern half of the city.

Six years later, she was elected to run the state party, and her tenure was marked by a new seriousness about reaching out to young, minority, and progressive voters, as well as a willingness to pick fights with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards over his more conservative policies. On the other hand, controversially, she had actually asked Edwards to stay out of the 2015 race so Democrats could elect a more moderate Republican than US Sen. David Vitter. The good news, obviously, is that he didn’t listen. She was also one of the few Democrats willing to stand against creationism in schools during Jindal’s push for it. She’s made a name for herself as being sharp-tongued when it comes to the Republican Party - which we always support, to be clear. She’s also been willing to take some controversial stands, such as against the Second Amendment.

We don’t want to portray her as any kind of progressive warrior, however. She voted for Troy Carter’s anti-defund resolution, tried to privatize school lunches, and works for a corporate law firm with some pretty scuzzy clients. Her education record is quite mixed, with prominent stands for charters, but against vouchers. Her actual campaign itself may be held back by her willingness to break ranks and make enemies, most recently by spiking some of John Bel Edwards’s appointees, a rare event, as well as her highly publicized gambling addiction. (That last thing shouldn’t matter, particularly because she has been getting treatment for years and because it doesn’t seem to have affected her performance in office, but politics is ugly and we wouldn’t be surprised to see an opponent dive headfirst into the gutter if they thought she was winning.) And that is a reasonably likely occurrence: she’s already gotten some high-profile endorsements, including Stacey Abrams, EMILY’s List, and Our Revolution, as well as some local politicians. Her biggest endorsement to date is New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell

Carter Peterson has laid down a few policy priorities so far on her website, Twitter, and in public statements, and it sounds a lot like a politician trying to ride an ideological line that scares off neither moderates nor progressives. For instance, she supports Medicare for All, but her language is always about wanting to “work towards Medicare for All” or “expand access to healthcare for all”. We asked if she’d like to clarify what that phrasing entailed, but her campaign never got back to us. She also supports a federal investment in green jobs and as a DNC member called for a climate debate, but won’t say the words Green New Deal, as far as we can find. In other words, she’s a clear and significant improvement over Richmond, but not a likely Squad member.

Gary Chambers Jr. is best known for a viral moment this year where he castigated the Baton Rouge school board for not caring about the brutal legacy of the Confederacy in the modern-day city, but he’s been an activist in the Baton Rouge community for years, including publishing a magazine beginning in 2012, The Rouge Collection, about the Black experience in the city, though it’s now defunct. The magazine endorsed in most political races, and as far as well can tell, always picked the more progressive option, including Bernie for president in 2016. The magazine had folded by 2020, but Chambers personally backed him again. Chambers was prominently involved in 2017 protests against the government’s indifference to the police homicide of Alton Sterling, a Black man. Chambers was even arrested at one such demonstration.

All around, he seems like the best option considering the race, even if he’s in a rough spot electorally. Chambers does have campaign experience, from a 2019 run against an incumbent state senator. He lost 74-26. He’s going to be at a disadvantage in terms of both name recognition and geography, since Baton Rouge is going to cast about 15% of the vote. His path to the runoff probably involves consolidating a significant portion of the Baton Rouge vote, then appealing to some progressives in New Orleans who don’t like the mostly moderate choices provided. However, he’ll have to do that quickly, on a small budget, which will be extremely difficult. Except, maybe his budget won’t be so small. In his first month since announcing his bid for Congress, Chambers raised over $220,000 on ActBlue alone, per the ActBlue donation thermometer. That’s considerably less than you’d want to run an entire congressional campaign on, but it is a good start for getting your name out ahead of a late March primary. He’s leaning into his outsider status, explicitly asking voters in his introductory video not to “vote how you’ve always voted.”

In addition, three other potentially viable candidates have filed as Democrats: local small businesswoman Jennette Porter, who is running on a criminal justice reform platform; New Orleans activist Lloyd Kelly; and Badass Balloons CEO Desiree Ontiveros, who is the only Hispanic candidate in the field, and is running on a broadly progressive platform.

It’s an open question how the left is going to proceed in this race. On the one hand, Troy Carter really needs to be stopped, and Karen Carter Peterson is probably the best bet to do so; on the other hand, Chambers has a much better background as an outside agitator, and one who is clearly interested in being of the movement and who doesn’t have the baggage of Carter Peterson: her bad votes, her questionable campaign donors (nothing too bad by Louisiana standards, but she’s taken thousands from cop, oil, and healthcare industry PACs). On one level, with the jungle primary system Louisiana has, since there are three main Democrats, and a scattering of Republicans and Libertarians, a runoff is almost guaranteed in a district this Democratic, so voters don’t have to choose. 

But that runoff will probably be with Troy Carter, who is still the candidate to beat. Karen Carter Peterson, who already beat him once (in the 2008 LA-02 primary), and who seems likelier to be able to navigate a large-scale campaign in a short time, and to avoid letting the race turn into a New Orleans-vs.-Baton Rouge fight. So while Gary Chambers Jr. is clearly the most preferable candidate in the race, there’s a tactical argument for supporting Karen Carter Peterson. That might be why Our Revolution has endorsed her despite her prominent support of Clinton in 2016.

But that all seems too clever by half to us. This is going to be a short campaign, over before May, and Chambers is a young, energetic candidate who seems like everything the left should be looking for right now and who happens to be the only candidate from Baton Rouge, which at least provides him with a geographic base. There are also rumors that he’s being looked at by national politicians and groups; one rumor has it that an endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might be in the cards, something that Chambers isn’t denying. (Though even if it wasn’t true, it would be mildly nuts to deny that a prominent national politician might endorse you.) And really, on a fundamental level, no one really knows how the campaign will go at this point. Candidates have barely had time to get in, let alone campaign in full.

OH-11

Unlike in LA-02, filing is still open, though the field seems to be settling somewhat.

  • Bernie Sanders 2016 & 2020 campaign veteran and former State Sen. Nina Turner is in. Turner has quite the national profile now, as an ardent ally of Bernie Sanders. In 2016, her involvement in the campaign started small, but she quickly became a top surrogate. After the campaign, she was tapped to run Our Revolution, and then for the 2020 Campaign she was a national co-chair, which made her a constant presence on both the campaign trail and political media. She is as tied to the Bernie world as any other politician in the country except the man himself.

    With all of that national attention, it's easy to forget that Turner is an accomplished Cleveland politician in her own right. She worked in the office of Mayor Frank White, and won a tough race for City Council in 2005. When a state senate seat opened up 3 years later, she was the unanimous choice to fill it, and didn’t even face a primary for the full term. Around that time her career was getting serious buzz, and there was widespread speculation that she would run for County Executive or Mayor and would be a force to be reckoned with in those races. It was as a state senator that she became a regular presence on MSNBC. She wound up running for Secretary of State in 2014, and her campaign was just as doomed as the other Democrats that year. Before she was out of office that year, she was organizing for Hillary 2016. Her switching to Bernie in 2015 was her lending her cred to him, not the other way around.

    Turner has spent her entire career at odds with the establishment, starting with that original 2001 primary, when she took on a corrupt ward boss, and in 2005, when she took on the machine’s candidate for that same district, the incumbent’s wife, and came from behind to win. In 2008, she was an Obama delegate despite big names like Stephanie Tubbs Jones (and soon-to-be big like Marcia Fudge) backing Hillary Clinton. In 2009, as a result of Cuyahoga County getting rocked by corruption scandals, the voters chose between two reform initiatives, 5 and 6. Turner and many young progressives backed Issue 6, despite vicious attacks by the old Black establishment. In the Senate, she was a master of stunts that leveraged media attention to help bring public focus to an out-of-control right-wing legislature, and she kept that energy after her term ended. 

    This isn’t to say that there’s nothing about Turner to be critical of. There are minor problems in her record, like her desire to put a curfew on teens during her Council days, or her hedging on legal marijuana as late as 2014. But there are bigger ones too. She was a leading charter school supporter, and no friend of teacher’s unions. While she says she’s changed, it’s unclear how much. A 2018 staffing fight at Our Revolution revealed that her personal political consultant, who she’d been trying to get a role at the organization, harbored some very anti-immigrant views.

    Turner isn’t perfect, but you’re not going to get perfect in this race (just keep on reading.) Turner has demonstrated a commitment to progressive issues, and just as importantly, the progressive movement. She’s more than willing to throw elbows and buck leadership, but that doesn’t stop her from making allies.

  • Cuyahoga County Councilor Shontel Brown is in. Brown isn’t just a county councilor in her second term on the council; she also runs the county Democratic Party, which makes her not only the establishment choice, but the choice of the Cleveland machine as well. Brown is a well known protege of Marcia Fudge, who helped pick Brown to move up from suburban municipal politics to big-time county stuff, and by some accounts was the reason Brown got put in charge of the party, as her proxy - a suggestion Brown chafes at.

    Regardless of her level of autonomy in the role, that 2017 party chair election is still a sore spot for just about everyone involved. The progressive wing of the party thought it finally had enough numbers to win the convention vote for their candidate, Newburgh Heights mayor Trevor Elkins, but after two rounds of balloting, Brown won 58.7-41.3, which Elkins attributed to intimidation and threats by the machine. Not soon after, the party, under the orders of Brown’s handpicked director, controversially broke a series of its own rules to endorse candidates in Lakewood’s municipal elections. They also hired ex-county executive, miserable failure of a gubernatorial candidate, and machine loyalist Ed FitzGerald to do their fundraising. Elkins, incidentally, has endorsed Turner.

    That’s not to say that the only reason to worry about Brown in Congress is the local political circles she swims in (although that would be more than enough). Brown’s record is troubling. In 2015, she joined in an effort to kill a moderate fracking severance tax as part of the Protect Ohio Jobs Coalition, which was formed specifically to fight that tax. She went along with deep cuts to the county's jail system that resulted in inhumane conditions and regular deaths, and stuck by the architect of the jail changes, County Executive Armond Budish, through corruption allegations and arrests in his administration. 

  • Former Cleveland City Councilor Jeffrey Johnson is in. Johnson may simply be a fan of running for OH-11 special elections, considering this is his 3rd time: he ran in the 1998 and 2008 specials that were eventually won by Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Marcia Fudge. Johnson's been part of the Cleveland political scene since the 80s, bouncing around between municipal politics and the state legislature, but is still not particularly old for politics, in his early 60s. He was a rising star in his youth, but during that 1998 special election campaign, one that many thought he would win, the FBI indicted him for extortion. He was eventually convicted, and spent the next year in prison. He made a comeback not soon after, securing himself a spot on the Cleveland City Council, which he gave up to run for mayor in 2017 (he came in third and missed the runoff).

    Johnson has a reputation for not being bossed around. He goaded one sitting mayor into attacking him with a chair, and another’s entire staff to leave his floor speech in protest. He’s been arrested for protesting, and is known for standing his ground against other politicians. He’s had a laser focus on police brutality and money going to downtown development instead of poor neighborhoods. He fought the council for a $15 minimum wage and called them out when they used the Republican legislature to preempt it. He’s also a favorite of the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, an offshoot of the Bernie 2016 campaign and the major organizational force behind progressive electoral organizing in the county. It’s such a shame, then, about that extortion conviction. It can’t just be brushed aside. Congress is too much of a powerful position for that, and as the 2008 Congressional and 2017 mayor primaries showed, it may have permanently limited his electoral prospects.

  • Former state Sen. Shirley Smith is in. Smith spent 8 years in the House and 8 in the Senate, meaning she's termed out of both the latter and one term away from the same fate in the former (to say nothing of the residency issues that dogged her on the way out), so she's been searching around for her next office. In 2014 she ran for Cuyahoga County Executive, but got crushed by Armond Budish 56-20, though she kept it a bit closer in the OH-11 part of the district. In 2019, she ran for mayor of South Euclid (pop. 22,000) but lost 60-40. It kind of seems like she's considering just out of lack of other options.

    Her career being on its deathbed is fine by us. She was one of the turncoats who supported the Republican gerrymander in 2011, which is one of those things that you should never be able to live down. She was also in the small group of Democrats who voted for a massive income and business tax cut, and she supports fracking

  • Former state Rep. John Barnes Jr. is considering, and has filed with the FEC (which could mean he’s in, but does not guarantee it; candidates often bow out before the filing deadline or form committees as an exploratory measure.) Barnes is probably the worst name floated so far. Like Smith, he was one of the few Democrats to vote for the Republican gerrymander. He supports the death penalty, Republican prevention of Democrats enacting policy at the local level, and big oil. In fact, he voted with Republicans so often that the state party tried to get him to stop, failed, and eventually endorsed his primary opponent, though he and the party had been at each other’s throats for a while.

  • Reverend Jawanza Colvin is testing the waters for a campaign. Colvin is the pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, a church with a primarily Black, 4,000 member, congregation. Colvin has been a voice in progressive politics for years, a key voice in the local Black Lives Matter movement early on, a Fight for $15 supporter, and a 2016 Bernie delegate to the DNC. This year he’s been an outspoken voice for action in the wake of the George Floyd protests. Colvin would be a bit of a wildcard candidate: not exactly a new entrant to politics, but potentially without many of his allies supporting his jump from activism to elected office due to Turner’s run. Ministers who enter politics start with the advantage of a solid base in their congregation, but in a constituency the size of a congressional district, that’s still not necessarily that much. Another problem for him? Nina Turner released a list of endorsements from local religious leaders yesterday, which reads an awful lot like a smart attempt to box him out of the race.

  • House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes sounds pretty interested. Sykes represents a district in Akron, which she took over in 2014 from her parents, local political power couple Barbara and Vernon Sykes, who had held it since 1983. The family is quite close, politically. Sykes had a quiet first couple terms, and then ascended to House leadership in 2019 after a fraught Speakership battle where two Republicans fought for Democratic support. She backed the eventual winner; most of House leadership at the time didn’t. Maybe that was why all they resigned and she took over, maybe not. Either way, it’s the most interesting thing to happen in a political career that’s gotten a lot of buzz without a lot of actual action.

    Sykes has a good relationship with EMILY’s List, and is the only candidate in this race (should she announce) with nothing particularly divisive in her past. Still, she's hampered by one factor outside of her control: geography. OH-11 has always been a Cleveland district. Akron was tacked on in the 2011 redistricting to bump up the Black vote share, and only represents 10-12% of OH-11 primary voters. Sykes could clean up in Akron, but Cleveland politics will still be the deciding factor. Sykes also endorsed Biden in the primary, so we’re not enthusiastic. (The aforementioned list of clergy endorsements for Turner is, interestingly, mostly from Akron, so the list also seems to be—in combination with the endorsement of that Akron councilor—a shot across Sykes’s bow, not just Colvin’s, though there’s still enough Cleveland clergy that it reads as a signal to Colvin too. Thanks to @goomy_pls on Twitter for pointing the Akron concentration out to us.)

  • State Rep. Terrence Upchurch is considering. Upchurch is in his second term in the State House after doing legislative work for the Cleveland City Council, but has already landed himself in hot water. Larry Householder, Ohio's Speaker of the House (yeah their state house speaker was a dude named Householder, it’s weird, move on), was arrested on July 21 of this year in the largest bribery scandal in the history of the state. In exchange for a $60 million "gift" from FirstEnergy, Householder pushed a bill through the House to spend $1.3 billion propping up their unprofitable nuclear and coal plants, as well as gutting green energy mandates. Householder couldn’t get enough Republican votes for the bill, so he recruited 10 Democrats (all of whom got FirstEnergy campaign donations). Upchurch was one of those 10. After the scandal broke, Upchurch returned the money and said he'd vote for a repeal bill, but as the only House Democrat in the Cleveland area to support the bill, the stink of corruption is attached to him. It's almost better if he was on the take, because the alternative is that he thought a coal bailout was good policy.

  • Cleveland City Councilor Blaine Griffin is considering. Griffin is as establishment as they come, a well-known ally of current mayor Frank Jackson who got to the Council by appointment directly from Jackson’s cabinet, and a Biden delegate

    Griffin has an attitude towards policing which seems especially out of date at the moment. In 2015 he sent out a series of tweets asking if local citizens and activists outraged at the possibility of a cop walking on a manslaughter charge wanted to “burn down” Cleveland like Baltimore and Ferguson. He’s said that before dealing with any systemic issues in the police department, Cleveland needs to boost officer “morale”, though he doesn’t seem that interested in general about reports of systemic discipline issues in the force. He wants to make businesses and even private citizens liability for crimes committed on their property if they don’t pay for private security. He recently ascended to chair of the Public Safety Committee, he has the ability to ask for another report into police brutality during the George Floyd protests after the previous one mostly omitted that topic, but has not. As for the protesters who committed criminal acts? “No tolerance”. His attitude toward civil liberties is also worryingly lax. 

    He’s a fan of tax breaks to property developers, even by the low, low standards of municipal government, though that’s not because of a general desire for more housing. And finally, check out a speech he gave after he heard an SEIU member asked the city council president to leave a voting rights forum: "We've got to set a tone that nobody should ever mess with this body. These folks need us because we were duly elected and we put ourselves out there to work hard on behalf of the citizens, not them... The body of this council needs to be shown respect whenever we go anywhere. We need to send a strong message that when you mess with us, you will be dealt with." Yikes.

    Griffin is ambitious and looking to move up, and has been spoken about in the upper tier of potential 2021 mayoral candidates. This campaign seems like a big risk for him, since he would have to go up against plenty of power players who already back Shontel Brown, and because it might preclude him from running for mayor. Still, if he did get in, it would be a serious blow to Brown's campaign.

  • Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich isn't ruling it out. Kucinich is certainly one of the more colorful characters in Cleveland and national politics. An outspoken progressive since his first election to the city council in 1969, Kucinich was soon elected mayor for a single term, which ended in disaster when his refusal to sell the city’s power company earned him an assasination attempt, as well as a bank knifing the city and forcing them into default. He never left politics, and in 1996 defeated an incumbent Republican for OH-10, then a district that included western Cleveland and its suburbs. He made a couple of quixotic presidential campaigns in 2004 and 2008, beat back a machine primary challenger in 2008, 50-35, then got double-bunked with longtime Toledo congresswoman Marcy Kaptur in the new 2012 Congressional maps. While his side of the district has just as many voters as hers, he lost by 16%. He dropped off the map for a while, then showed up to run for governor in 2018, losing the primary 62-23, though he pulled 39% in Cuyahoga County.

    On paper, that's a promising resume, but Kucinich is less than an ideal candidate. He's already 74 years old, doesn't live in the district (which is sometimes a minor detail, but there are big political differences between east and west Cleveland), and made an abrupt pivot from anti-choice to pro-choice to run for President. And since leaving Congress, he's kind of lost it. He signed onto Fox News as a regular commenter just after leaving Congress. While it's unfair to call his tenure conservative on net, he made a variety of pro-Trump statements. He also opposed impeachment in 2019 because the voters should decide.

  • Stefanie Brown James, an alum of the Obama reelection campaign and the cofounder of The Collective PAC (a PAC which aims to elect Black candidates to office), has registered several domain names for a congressional run. Brown James is also connected to EMILY’s List. She doesn’t have the name recognition of an elected official or past candidate, but she certainly has the connections to mount a serious campaign if she thinks there’s an opening.

  • 2020 candidate Tariq Khajuan Shabazz is running again. He got 4% last time. Not a lot but every vote might count if this becomes a 5+ way race.

Nina Turner has come out of the gate very strong in this race as her endorsement list demonstrates: she has support not just from organizations like Justice Democrats and national progressive figures like Bernie Sanders, Cori Bush, and Keith Ellison; but also from both of Cleveland’s state senators, a couple local mayors, clergy, and even an Akron city councilor. And she’s off to a strong start on the money front: in the three weeks from her announcement to the end of the year, she raised more than $640,000. That’s an insanely good sum for just three weeks, and the vast majority of it—more than $500,000—was from unitemized donations (meaning less than $200 per person.) Small donors are legally able to give again (and again and again, up to $2800), so Turner’s financial base is sustainable—thus avoiding a problem candidates reliant on big donors often run into, where they post strong initial quarters but run out of gas as their previous donors are legally prohibited from giving more.

Other candidates clearly see Turner as a threat. Jeff Johnson was going on the offensive after her, highlighting her past criticisms of Joe Biden, including one instance where she compared the Biden vs. Trump choice to “half a bowl of shit” vs. a whole bowl. It remains unclear the extent to which voters prioritize deference to Joe Biden at this point.  The Cleveland machine is formidable, but it’s hard not to see Turner as a tentative frontrunner.

Shontel Brown is likely her toughest competition, owing to her strength with the Cuyahoga County machine. But if there’s one thing we’ve seen these last few cycles, it’s the decline of the traditional political machine. It’s hard to say if Jeff Johnson, Shirley Smith, and any others that enter, will probably take more votes from Brown or from Turner, but as of now it’s probably not worth worrying about too much. Smith’s a traditional politician and Johnson’s been anti-establishment for a while, so they probably roughly even out for voters who see things that way. However, neither of them likely have much sway with a surprisingly important group of voters.

This is the “Cleveland seat”, but Cleveland won’t be casting the majority of the votes. In fact, a large number of the Democratic voters in this district hail from middle class, educated, diverse suburbs like Shaker Heights. These are the voters least likely to be attracted to appeals from traditional political networks, which have shown the most strength in the city and in WWC suburbs. They’ve elected progressive mayors in the past, and Turner, who has both money, national name recognition, and no ties to the machine, looks best positioned to pick these voters up.


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