Brown’s defeat of Nina Turner, the former state senator and close ally of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, is a flexing of the Democratic establishment’s muscle, after South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn and the Congressional Black Caucus stepped in to campaign for Brown.
Turner conceded to Brown Tuesday night.
“Tonight my friends, we have looked across the promised land, but for this campaign, on this night, we will not cross the river,” Turner said.
It could be a sign that progressives’ hopes of ousting other Democratic lawmakers in next year’s primaries will encounter a stiff resistance from the party’s establishment — backed by the same coalition of pragmatic Black voters and older, moderate White voters who carried President Joe Biden to victory in last year’s presidential primary.
Brown will be the heavy favorite to win the November 2 special election to replace former Rep. Marcia Fudge, who resigned to become President Joe Biden’s secretary of housing and urban development, in the heavily Democratic district.
Along with Brown and Turner, 11 other Democratic candidates were on the ballot.
The race was a proxy for the larger generational and ideological battles Democrats are fighting in Washington. It drew Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and other leading progressives into the district to campaign for Turner, while Clyburn, the No. 3-ranking House Democrat, and other establishment-aligned figures descended on Cleveland to back Brown.
Turner entered the race as the best-known candidate thanks to the national profile she developed as a top Sanders ally and television surrogate during the Vermont senator’s two presidential campaigns.
She is an ally of the “squad,” a group of progressive Democrats who are aiming to grow their ranks — and influence over the party’s policy direction — in the 2022 midterm elections.
“There’s a lot of other districts that are much more competitive — they don’t have the privilege or the luxury to say ‘Yes, ‘Medicare for All.” ‘Yes, a Green New Deal,'” New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said while campaigning with Turner. “There aren’t too many districts like these that can lead the country. And so you all have the responsibility for all of us to help us add one more member to lead that fight.”
“I need Nina,” she said. “Please send me Nina. Please.”
But increasing the might of the party’s left flank could come at the cost of other influential Democratic factions. The Congressional Black Caucus stepped in to back Brown, who has aligned herself more closely with President Joe Biden and largely praised his work during his first months in office.
Clyburn — a kingmaker in the 2020 Democratic presidential race, where his endorsement catapulted Biden to a massive victory in the South Carolina primary that set Biden up to all but clinch the nomination on Super Tuesday just three days later — was drawn into the race after the rapper and activist Killer Mike, appearing with Turner, said the congressman was “incredibly stupid” for not having secured more commitments from Biden before endorsing him.
The moment underscored the reality that — even as she ran a locally focused campaign — Turner could not escape the still simmering resentments of her previous work as one of the loudest left-wing critics of the party’s establishment.
As Turner campaigned on her calls for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, Clyburn said he was opposed to “sloganeering” and cited progressive calls to defund the police.
In an interview as he campaigned with Brown last weekend, Clyburn said Biden needed as many allies in the House as he could get.
“I don’t understand why people think that the entire agenda has got to be yours. That’s not the way the world works,” Clyburn told CNN. “We have to sit down, find common ground, reconcile the differences and move an agenda forward. That’s what this President is doing and that’s why he’s been so successful.”
Brown, meanwhile, leaned into the image as someone who would arrive in Washington with relationships that could benefit the district.
Though Fudge stayed out of the race, Brown’s campaign aired a television ad featuring the next-best thing: Fudge’s mother.
In the ad, Fudge’s mother says Brown is her daughter’s protege. “She shares Marcia’s values and will continue her legacy in Congress,” she says.