Trump big winner, progressives big losers in twin Ohio congressional primaries

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Former President Trump wasn’t on the ballot, but he was one of the winners as the candidate he backed won a GOP primary in a special House election in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District on Tuesday.

And progressive Democrats were the losers, as the well-known contender they were supporting lost to a candidate endorsed by the party’s establishment and the Congressional Black Caucus in a Democratic primary election for a vacant House seat in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District.

“Tonight, Republicans across Ohio’s 15th Congressional District sent a clear message to the nation that President Donald J. Trump is, without a doubt, the leader of our party,” said Mike Carey, the candidate the former president endorsed.

“I could not be more grateful for his support, and I am proud to deliver this win to advance his America First agenda,” Carey, a longtime energy lobbyist and the chair of the Ohio Coal Association, added.

Carey won 37% of the vote, according to unofficial results, far ahead of his 10 Republican rivals in a district that includes parts of southern Columbus and its suburbs, as well as small cities, towns and rural areas in parts of central and southern Ohio.

He will now be the front-runner in November’s general election in the race to fill a seat left vacant after longtime Republican Rep. Steve Stivers stepped down in May to become president and CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. Trump carried the district by 15 points his 2016 presidential election victory and by 14 points in last November’s reelection defeat.

After an electoral setback last week in Texas – when Susan Wright, the Trump-backed candidate in an all-Republican House special election runoff in the state’s 6th Congressional District was defeated – the primary in Ohio and the former president’s endorsement of Carey grabbed plenty of national attention.

Aiming to prevent a second straight defeat of a Trump endorsed candidate – which would bring a tidal wave of stories questioning the former president’s sway over the GOP – Trump and his team moved. aggressively to support Carey.

Trump headlined a tele-rally for Carey on Monday night, on the eve of the primary. It was his second such event for Carey in the past two weeks. 

The former president also took aim at Carey’s rivals, saying in a statement last week that “numerous candidates in the great State of Ohio, running in Congressional District 15, are saying that I am supporting them, when in actuality, I don’t know them, and don’t even know who they are…Please vote for Mike Carey next Tuesday, and let there be no further doubt who I have Endorsed!” 

And the Trump-aligned Make America Great Again Action super PAC shelled out roughly $350,000 to run commercials supporting Carey in the closing days of the Ohio campaign, more than double what they spent in the Texas contest, according to figures provided by AdImpact, a leading national ad tracking firm.

Trump remains extremely popular and influential with Republican voters six months removed from the White House, as he continues to play a kingmaker role in GOP primary politics and flirts with a 2024 presidential run.

Last week’s election runoff in Texas, with both Wright and GOP rival Jake Ellzey strong supporters of Trump’s “America First” agenda, turned into a referendum of sorts on the former president. The victory by Ellzey, a Navy combat pilot veteran, in the extremely low turnout contest triggered plenty of stories questioning whether the results were a sign that Trump’s grip over the GOP was waning.

A senior Trump political adviser told Fox News late last week that “there’s a heavy emphasis on delivering a win” in the Ohio primary and added: “I expect him [Trump] to do whatever it takes to win.”

On Wednesday, the former president touted that “there was a landslide victory for Mike.” He charged that “the mainstream was chomping at the bit to report a loss for a Trump endorsed candidate” and “If my endorsed candidate would have lost, it would have been nothing but front page (news).”

In the Texas contest, Ellzey outraised Wright and outhustled her on the campaign trail. And he enjoyed the backing of a number of high-profile Lone Star State Republicans – including former Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a fellow combat veteran, and former Rep. Joe Barton, who represented the district for nearly three decades before not seeking reelection in 2018.

In Ohio, some of Carey’s GOP rivals were also being supported by well-known Republicans.

Stivers, who represented the district for a decade, backed state Rep. Jeff LaRe and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a Trump ally and former Republican presidential candidate, endorsed former state Rep. Ron Hood. The pro-Paul Protect Freedom PAC spent nearly half a million dollars to run TV, digital, and radio commercials on behalf of Hood in the month leading up to Tuesday’s primary.

Another factor: the Ohio GOP primary was closed to Democrats, unlike in Texas, where Democrats voted in the runoff general election and many of them may have cast a ballot for Ellzey because Trump was backing Wright.

While Carey came out on top in the 15th District, Cuyahoga County councilwoman Shontel Brown defeated former state Sen. Nina Turner in the Democratic congressional primary in Ohio’s 11th District. Brown’s victory in the low-turnout 13 candidate contest is being seen as a victory for the Democratic establishment over its insurgent left wing.

Turner, a top surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, enjoyed the backing of progressives nationwide, and Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigned in person with Turner during the final two weekends leading up to Tuesday’s election.

Brown, who repeatedly spotlighted her support for Biden and his agenda, was endorsed by 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, as well as the Congressional Black Caucus. And she was joined this past weekend on the campaign trial by House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, a top Biden ally who’s support was instrumental in boosting the now-president’s bid to win the 2020 nomination, and by longtime Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.

In a fiery concession speech, Turner on Tuesday night blamed super PACs for her loss, as she vowed to push for campaign finance reforms to weaken the influence of outside groups in elections.

“I am going to work hard to ensure that something like this never happens to a progressive candidate again,” she said. “We didn’t lose this race, the evil money manipulated and maligned this election.”

Outside groups – many of them backing Brown and targeting Turner – shelled out the majority of the more than $4.5 million spent to run ads in the race since the start of May. One of the super PACs ran a spot that highlighted critical comments from Turner from July of last year when she argued that for Sanders supporters, there was basically minimal difference in voting for Biden over Trump, comparing it to eating half a bowl of s**t instead of a full bowl of excrement.

Brown is now the overwhelming favorite to win the general election in the heavily Democratic district that includes large portions of Cleveland and its southern and eastern suburbs, as well as parts of the city of Akron. She would fill the seat left vacant when longtime Democratic Rep. Marcia Fudge stepped down early this year after being confirmed as Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Biden cabinet.

For progressives, it’s another high-profile loss to more moderate Democratic candidates, following setbacks earlier this year in a special congressional election in Louisiana, the party’s off-year nominating contests in Virginia, and the New York City mayoral primary.

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