Ohio special election: A good day for Democrats

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Democrats got a double dose of welcome news in two Ohio special congressional elections yesterday, fending off a left-wing candidate in one district, while a Donald Trump-backed coal lobbyist won the Republican nod in another.

It’s usually a mistake to make too much of special elections. But Democratic leaders, like House Democratic whip James Clyburn (D-Ga.), were pleased with the outcome in the heavily-Black 11th district around Cleveland — and they believe Trump-backed Republicans may be weaker in the general election.

Shontel Brown, a Democratic Cuyahoga County councilwoman defeated left-wing opponent Nina Turner for the seat vacated by Rep. Marcia Fudge, whom President Biden tapped as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

The 11th district race became a contest of the Democratic progressive mainstream versus the party’s left with Clyburn and Hillary Clinton campaigning for Brown, and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) campaigning for Turner. A victory by the left would have further emboldened the activists creating schisms with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the White House.

Separately, Mike Carey, with Donald Trump’s active support, won a special election for the seat of a Republican incumbent in Ohio’s 15th district who quit. Carey defeated a large field including two state legislators.

Democratic strategists privately welcome Trump’s clout within the Republican party, believing a number of the non-incumbent candidates he’s endorsing will be weaker against a Democrat. Ohio’s 15th, centered in the Columbus suburbs and small towns, is Republican — Trump won it by 14 points last November — but Democrats think they have an outside shot in the November general election against a first-time candidate who has been a lobbyist.

This was the second special House election where Trump has weighed in — and Carey’s victory is an impressive rebound from a Texas contest last month where Trump’s candidate lost.

Unlike most former presidents, who largely steered clear of intra-party contests, Trump is deeply engaged in primaries. The litmus test isn’t ideology or any specific issue — it’s solely about loyalty to him and his phony charge that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen” with widespread Democratic voter fraud.

Trump is especially vitriolic against any Republican who opposed him on election fraud or impeachment. At the top of the list are Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Anthony Gonzales (R-Ohio). He also has endorsed an opponent to Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state who refused to overturn Biden’s victory in the state.

Never underestimate Trump’s petulance.

Texas land commissioner, George P. Bush, whose uncle and grandfather were Republican presidents, courted Trump’s approval in his race for Texas attorney general. He’s an outlier in a family that is anti-Trump. But Trump pulled the rug out and instead endorsed incumbent Texas AG Ken Paxton, who is under state indictment and — separately — under federal investigation. Paxton proved his Trumpian bona fides with the suit to throw out the electoral votes of several states that voted for Biden; it was quickly dismissed by the Supreme Court. Trump also undoubtedly relished sticking it to the Bush clan.

On the Democratic side, the band of left-wing House Democrats is small — a half dozen or so members in and around the so-called “squad” — but they have a disproportionately loud megaphone. Some other Democrats have been tarred with the squad’s more radical sentiments.

The left-wingers’ call to “defund the police” was used against Democrats last year by Donald Trump and many Republican campaigns. It didn’t work against Joe Biden, who had a long record on policing and supported reforming not defunding police, but Democrats believe it became a significant issue for some down-ballot Democrats.

(Inexplicably, Republicans generally seem able to avoid being hit with the more incendiary, even dangerous, views of their party’s fringe, like Q’Anon follower Marjorie Taylor Greene.)

The squad scored an impressive success this week in pressuring the Biden administration to partially extend a moratorium on rental evictions. But they’ve also caused controversies. This year Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) called for the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), and Cori Bush (D-Mo) said the Fourth of July is a holiday for white people. Those aren’t messages that resonate with most Americans.

Turner’s loss in Ohio underscores anew the reality that the left’s voice is more pronounced than their votes.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton James Clyburn Joe Biden Left-wing populism Lisa Murkowski Liz Cheney Marcia Fudge Marjorie Taylor Greene Mike Carey moderate Democrats Nancy Pelosi Ohio Ohio Special election Rashida Tlaib Shontel Brown the squad Trump primary challenges Trump supporter trumpism

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