What Shontel Brown's win in the Democratic Primary for Congress means for, and about, Northeast Ohio

Posted at 5:09 PM, Aug 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-04 17:59:37-04

CLEVELAND — Shontel Brown, the 11th District Democratic Congressional nominee, took time out of the day after her special primary election win to take a victory lap. Appearing on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe," she said her victory over former State Senator Nina Turner was a local choice between candidates with different approaches.

"It takes delivering results, not insults. Enough lip service, people want public service,” Brown said.

Brown positioned herself as someone who would stand with President Biden while painting Turner as someone who would stand against him. That's something Jeremy Peters, who covered the race for the New York Times, also said on the show will be the takeaway for Democrats in similar races.

"If you can convince voters that the Bernie Sanders/AOC insurgent left is just too much trouble, going to be too much of a headache, and is going to bring too much division in Washington, then you can win races, and last night certainly helped make their case,” Peters said.

That may be true on a national level, but News 5's Political Analyst Dr. Tom Sutton from Baldwin Wallace University, says coattails are something Sanders never had in Cuyahoga County, where he lost his last two presidential primaries by sizable margins — 63% to 36% against Hillary Clinton in 2016 and 72% to 16% last year to Joe Biden.

"So Sanders was beaten twice in the primaries for president,” Sutton said. “To get his backing in this congressional race didn't necessarily, at the end of the day, play to the favorite Nina Turner."

Jockeying for the seat began late last year when President-elect Joe Biden put forth Rep. Marcia Fudge for HUD Secretary, a position she vacated her seat for and now holds. If her nomination process had moved quickly, it looked like the special election primary might have taken place in May. But as that process wore on, the decision was made to place it in August, something that Sutton said ended up playing to Brown’s advantage as polls showed her trailing in the race.

“We saw a lot of the support for [Brown] really coalesce financially and in terms of voters' decisions in this past month,” Sutton said. “Had it happened in May, it's quite possible that Nina Turner would've prevailed, she had a substantial lead in what few polls we knew of she already had the backing financially as well as the national presence that was in her campaign. So I think it's quite possible she would have won if we had a May primary versus what we saw here in August.”

In the last month, Turner became the target of negative ads fueled in large by the pro-Israel PAC DMFI. She railed against the attacks Tuesday night.

"We didn't lose this race, evil money manipulated and maligned this election,” Turner said.

Shontel Brown now goes on to face Republican Laverne Jones Gore, who also ran for the seat last fall against Marcia Fudge. No Republican has come within 60 points of winning the seat since it was last redrawn a decade ago, but in change, the Cuyahoga County Republican Party sees opportunity.

“We are on the doorstep of redistricting next year, so this is a significant election,” said Cuyahoga County Republican Chair Lisa Stickan. “You know, we may see different districts next year, but I think we’re going to see a competitive and spirited election, and I think we’ll look forward to 2022 as well.”

Whether Turner herself may also be eyeing another challenge in next spring's primary if the boundaries are to her liking is another question.

“It really depends on what the new district looks like," Sutton said. "I think the speculation is that we'll see a consolidation of the district into Cuyahoga with it moving further west, and that could go either way. Some of the Progressive core in Cuyahoga County is on the further west side; the Progressive caucus is based here in Lakewood. On the other hand, you also have much more conservative parts of Cleveland that are further west in the suburbs, which would play more to a moderate candidate like a Shontel Brown, and of course, there's always the possibility one or more other candidates jump into the race because they now live in the district and it could also become somewhat a mirror of what we're seeing in the Cleveland mayoral primary.”

In the end though, Sutton said there’s a nod to history in Tuesday's results.

“This is in some ways still the lingering legacy of Lou Stokes," Sutton said. "Stokes, who anointed Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who became the congresswoman who then basically handed off to Marcia Fudge, not intentionally, and now you see really the next in line, Shontel Brown, who to Fudge was a protege.”