The results of the August 3 special Congressional primary election could signal the future direction of the Democratic Party.
The seat was left open for the first time in more than 12 years after Fudge resigned to become Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Nearly 700,000 people live in the district, which stretches from Cleveland and its near east side suburbs south through Broadview Heights and Richfield to Akron. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate in the district is 26.3 percent, and the median household income is $38,747.
It is widely considered a blue district and a safe seat for Democrats. Of the 15 candidates running the special election, 13 are Democrats and two are Republicans.
Former State Senator Nina Turner has dominated the advertising airwaves and held a wide lead in a May poll of 600 likely Democratic voters conducted by Tulchin Research.
The poll showed Turner with 50 percent of the Democratic vote, followed by Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown with 15 percent, Cleveland Municipal Housing Court Administrator Jeff Johnson with four percent and former State Senator Shirley Smith with three percent.
The poll showed 21 percent of respondents were undecided about which candidate they would vote for.
Turner said poverty is the top issue facing constituents in District 11.
“There’s a lot of hurt here,” Turner said. “So, I have the vision to provide provision to try to change that and turn that around.”
Turner served on Cleveland City Council and in the Ohio Senate before working for the Ohio Democratic Party and then playing a prominent roll on the national political stage.
She has been endorsed by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and is a favorite of progressives in Congress, including Senator Bernie Sanders, who Turner campaigned for in his 2016 and 2020 presidential bids.
Her campaign announced last week it has raised more than $3 million. Turner said the largest portion of that has come from donors in California, followed next by Ohio.
“I’m not too progressive for this district,” Turner said. “I think, the things I’m advocating for, most Americans agree with.”
Turner said she supports policies like Medicare for all, the Green New Deal, the cancelation of student debt and a $15 per hour minimum wage.
“I do fundamentally believe the people who suffer the most deserve the most attention, that the body politics should bend to their will, that I am running to change their material conditions,” Turner said.
Brown was first elected to Warrensville Heights City Council in 2012, then to Cuyahoga County Council, where she currently serves.
“What makes me different? I’m local, and if all politics is local, I am as local as it gets,” Brown said. “I’ve been here, never left and earned the support of over 100 local elected officials in the district.”
A rising star in the party, Brown has served as chairwoman of the 1000-member Cuyahoga County Democratic Party since 2017.
She recently picked up an endorsement from Hillary Clinton and has been running as a moderate Democrat, contrasting the progressive platform of Turner.
Brown said, if elected, she pledges to work with President Joe Biden, and her priorities will be healthcare, jobs and justice.
“I’ve been successfully able to pass legislation to help people here with bipartisan support,” Brown said. “I think that’s very much needed in D.C., so I want to bring some of that energy we have in Cuyahoga County to D.C. and help some of the people here who need it the most.”
Johnson said his decades serving in local and state office have prepared him to serve in the U.S. Congress.
“I’m more qualified, and I’m ready to start from day one,” Johnson said. “I don’t need years to learn my way around.”
The former Cleveland city councilman and Ohio state senator said, if elected, he’ll take action to combat poverty, raise the minimum wage, expand job training and make child tax credits permanent.
He called economics the top issue facing District 11.
“I know more, I’ve been around longer, I know legislative process,” Johnson said. “I know how to go from problem to solution and how public policy works.”
In addition to Turner, Brown, Johnson and Smith, other Democrats running in the special primary are Martin Alexander, John E. Barnes Jr., James Jerome Bell, Seth J. Corey, Will Knight, Pamela Pinkney, Isaac Powell, Lateek Shabazz and Tariq Q. Shabazz.
Laverne Gore and Felicia Washington Ross are the only Republicans on the ballot.
Early and absentee voting for the special Congressional primary begins on Wednesday, July 7, and Election Day is Tuesday, August 3.