“The progressive movement is largely judged by the number of seats it holds in Congress. So whenever you can add more seats, that gives you more power,” said Waleed Shahid, communications director for the Justice Democrats, another top left-wing group that has waded into one of the specials. “Since the election of the Squad, we’ve seen a more aggressive and assertive bloc of Congress form.”
The most high-profile race is taking place in Ohio, where Sanders’ former campaign co-chair Nina Turner faces Cuyahoga County Democratic Party leader Shontel Brown. But that’s not the only flashpoint. In Louisiana, a former state party leader endorsed by the CPC’s political action committee and an outsider activist are both taking on the candidate favored by former Rep. and now-White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond. And in New Mexico, progressives are hoping to hold onto a seat that is expected to be vacated by a prominent champion of the “Green New Deal.”
Turner is seen as the left’s best shot to win one of the three seats. She is a prolific fundraiser with a national following from Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 campaigns that’s helped her bring in more than $1 million. Her closest rival, Brown, only collected $40,000 by the end of 2020. As a former local elected official who represented part of the Cleveland-based 11th District in the state Senate and City Council, Turner is also a well-known figure in the area.
Her strong chances are partly why the progressive movement has gone all in for her, with Turner winning the support of several prominent left-wing names, including Sanders, Justice Democrats, the Working Families Party, and Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush. She is also being advised by Aisle 518 Strategies, the firm behind Sanders’ powerhouse small-dollar fundraising strategy in his presidential bids, as well as Sanders’ longtime aide Jeff Weaver and former pollster Ben Tulchin.
“It will be a huge test of the strength of the progressive movement,” Turner said in an interview. “[The pandemic] makes it very clear that we have to do better and that when we have the power to do better — and I mean we the Democrats — we should not hesitate to be bold and visionary. It is very clear that we need health care as a human right in this country. We can’t capitulate.”
Despite being massively outraised at the end of last year, Brown is viewed as a formidable opponent to Turner. She is a Cuyahoga County council member who has rolled out a number of endorsements, including from Congressional Black Caucus chair Rep. Joyce Beatty, local officials and pastors.
In an explicit shot at Turner, who fiercely criticized then-candidate Joe Biden during and after the 2020 primary, Brown has promised to be “a partner” to the presidential administration ― “not a thorn in their side.” Turner said she is “running against the status quo.”
Brown has picked up the support of the Democratic Majority for Israel, whose political arm has invested heavily in the past in defeating progressives running against establishment and moderate Democrats in primaries. The group’s involvement is another sign that the two flanks of the party see the special as a proxy war.
“Shontel can certainly win,” said Aaron Pickrell, a Democratic strategist based in Ohio who is not affiliated with any of the campaigns. “I don’t think it’s necessarily Nina’s to lose. I think that it’s competitive right now.”
In Louisiana, the winner of the 2nd District special election — the only one of these races that has a set date so far — will fill Richmond’s New Orleans-based seat. In Ohio’s 11th and New Mexico’s 1st districts, the races are to replace Reps. Marcia Fudge and Deb Haaland, respectively, if they are confirmed by the Senate for…