Andrew Trunsky, DCNF
- Nina Turner’s collapse in an Ohio special election Tuesday is the latest in a string of defeats for the left, with Democratic voters repeatedly opting for more moderate candidates.
- While Turner has long been disliked by the Democratic establishment, her fate is similar to less controversial progressive candidates across the country whose campaigns have crumbled against more moderate figures.
- The consecutive progressive defeats come less than a year after the 2020 election, where Republicans unexpectedly gained seats in the House even as President Joe Biden won on a platform of bipartisanship.
- “We lost races we shouldn’t have lost. Defund police almost cost me my race because of an attack ad. Don’t say socialism ever again,” Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger reportedly said last November. “If we run this race again, we will get fucking torn apart again in 2022.”
Nina Turner’s collapse in an Ohio special election Tuesday is the latest in a string of defeats for the left, with Democratic voters repeatedly opting for more moderate candidates.
Turner, a progressive activist and former top aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders, lost her bid to represent a Cleveland seat in Congress to Shontel Brown by about six points. And while she has long been a controversial figure disliked by the Democratic establishment, her fate Tuesday is similar to less controversial progressive candidates across the country whose campaigns have crumbled against more moderate figures.
In a special election in Louisiana in April, now-Rep. Troy Carter easily beat his progressive rival. Like Brown in Ohio, Carter was endorsed by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and other establishment figures, and campaigned on working across the aisle if necessary instead of on progressive ambitions like Medicare-for-All or “defund the police.”
In June, establishment-backed former Gov. Terry McAuliffe trounced his progressive challengers in Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, winning 62% of the vote. McAuliffe had far greater name recognition and a larger war chest than his rivals, but he also declined to endorse leftist policy goals and explicitly opposed defunding police departments.
The most striking defeat may have been in New York City, where former NYPD officer Eric Adams campaigned not on defunding the police but on reconnecting officers with the communities they protect and better equipping police departments to do their jobs justly and efficiently. Adams, who was frequently targeted by the Democratic left, beat out the crowded field vying to succeed term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio, and is all but certain to be elected in November.
The consecutive progressive defeats come less than a year after the 2020 election, where former President Donald Trump outperformed most polls and Republicans unexpectedly gained seats in the House even as President Joe Biden won on a platform of bipartisanship — not Medicare-for-All, defunding the police or embracing “socialism.”
Despite their recent electoral struggles, progressives have scored some big victories. In May, Philadelphia reelected progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner as Pittsburgh simultaneously ousted its incumbent Democratic mayor for a more progressive alternative.
A similar scene unfolded in Buffalo, New York, where self-described socialist India Walton successfully challenged Byron Brown, the city’s establishment mayor.
“This is the work of a well-meaning group of rebels and revolutionaries that had a bold vision on what we want the future of our city to look like,” Walton told her supporters on June 23, when it was clear she was on track to win. “All that we are doing in this moment is claiming what is rightfully ours. We are the workers. We do the work. And we deserve a government that works with and for us.”
But many, including congressional Democrats, blamed their party’s losses to Republicans last November on progressive rhetoric that drove swing voters and voters of color away.
California Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas said in February that Democrats needed to change their message “overnight” and become more “culturally competent” if they wanted to be successful in future elections, noting his party’s implosion among Latino voters last November.
Other Democratic lawmakers, some of whom barely survived in their swing districts despite their own personal moderate messaging, were more pointed in their remarks.
“I wanna be frank that we have a problem, especially in places like Michigan where people don’t know what it means to be a Democrat,” Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin said in November. “The brand has been weak for a while … So, while I don’t love some of the slogans, I don’t love a lot of what I’m hearing from some of my colleagues who are further left of me, I think that we have a bigger strategic problem and we need to own that as Democrats.”
Just days earlier, Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who like Slotkin barely fended off a Republican challenge in her own Richmond-area district, gave a stark assessment of what she thought went wrong. “We lost races we shouldn’t have lost. Defund police almost cost me my race because of an attack ad. Don’t say socialism ever again,” Spanberger reportedly said. “If we run this race again, we will get fucking torn apart again in 2022.”
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