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Voters look for substance as Democratic fracturing plays out in Ohio’s 11th District

High profile leaders are making their final pitches to voters in the special election race to replace Marcia Fudge.
Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 2:39 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, OH (Gray DC) - Just hours from primary day in the special election for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District, candidates and their powerful friends are making final pleas to voters.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) flew in to campaign for Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is in town to help his former presidential campaign co-chair, Ohio State Senator Nina Turner.

“We need people who are not only going to stand up for working people, but have the courage to take on powerful special interests,” said Sanders in a an interview. “I’ve known Nina [Turner] for many, many years, and she is exactly that kind of person.”

Brown and Turner are in a Democratic clash to fill Marcia Fudge’s seat. The former congresswoman left a power vacuum in her district after she joined the Biden administration as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in March. Turner says she is ready to lead alongside Sanders and other progressive leaders in Congress.

“These are people that I’ve had the opportunity to build relationships with because I’ve been in the fight with them side-by-side,” Turner said.

Sanders is one of a number of progressives campaigning for Turner—that list also includes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY). Meanwhile, Brown has the stamp of approval from leaders like Hillary Clinton and Clyburn.

“I’ve seen Shontel [Brown],” Clyburn said. “[She is] someone that can be counted on by the people of this district to help us get this country back on track.”

Brown acknowledged the sway that Clyburn and Clinton’s endorsements can have.

“It means everything,” she said. “These are individuals who know the legacy of this district, who have worked with the members who formerly held this seat. So to have their support and confidence is an honor and a privilege.”

Turner has raised $4.5 million, the vast majority of it from individual contributions, according to mid-July campaign finance filings. Brown has raised less than half of that, with $2.1 million.

Both Brown and Turner said they are focused on the most important endorsement—the one from the electorate. But voters interviewed for this story were not focused on endorsements as much as on putting food on the table, and making their neighborhoods safer and healthier.

As Vanetta Neal finished a pancake breakfast at a Turner campaign event in East Cleveland Wednesday, she was undecided on who she would vote for. For her, flashy endorsements were not sweetening the deal—she wanted proof that the candidates could make a difference in office.

“Show me what you’re doing,” Neal said. “I want to know what you’ve done in the past that’s going to make me say that you’re the future for me.”

As the 11th Congressional District is considered a safe Seat for Democrats, whoever wins this primary will likely be the prohibitive favorite to win the general election in November.

Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Grace Ferguson contributed to this report.

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