By: Jon Levine
It’s AOC versus Hillary as the two Dem heavyweights duke it out for an open Congressional seat in Ohio — and possibly control of the party.
The raging proxy fight in the Buckeye state’s solidly Democratic 11th District pits Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her squad against Clinton and establishment Democrats over who will replace longtime Rep. Marcia Fudge, who retired this year to become Secretary for Housing and Urban Development.
On the progressives’ left is Nina Turner, a former state senator and former co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.
Turner has declared the criminal justice system to be “inherently unjust to black and brown people.” She supports New York-style bail reform and “accountability” for law enforcement.
“Defund the police is about reimagining what policing looks like in America,” she told The Hill last year, while also criticizing Biden for wanting to increase police budgets.
The establishment side is represented by Shontel Brown, a chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, who is widely seen as more moderate and willing to accommodate President Biden and party leaders.
Primary voters in the majority black district, which includes most of Cleveland and Akron, head to the polls Aug. 3, with the winner virtually certain to go on to victory in the November elections.
Both sides have brought in big guns to help their chances.
“I need her alongside me in Congress in the fight for racial, economic, social, and environmental justice,” Ocasio-Cortez said of Turner in an endorsement in March.
Since then the progressive firebrand has rolled up support from the entire House squad and more, including Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tliab, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, and Mondaire Jones.
After polling in June showed Turner leading Brown by 35 points, the Democratic establishment swung into action.
Hillary Clinton, the party’s 2016 standard bearer, came out for Brown, as did South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the House Majority Whip and most powerful black member of the chamber. This week the Congressional Black Caucus also said it would support Brown.
Democrats in Washington are looking to stop Turner in an effort to prevent the squad from adding new members to its ranks. They have become increasingly alarmed about the group’s influence on the Hill and willingness to resist President Biden’s agenda — particularly the fragile bipartisan infrastructure deal — which AOC has called racist.
“With a slim [House] majority another person in their ilk gives them outsize power and that is what this is about,” a Democratic House Insider told The Post, noting that the squad continues to flex its muscle. “It does not represent the Democratic party or where America is. They represent where teenagers on Twitter are.”
There are also growing fears among party grandees about holding the House in the 2022 midterms — and how the squad might affect the Dems’ chances.
“The more members [the squad] gets, the less mainstream we will be able to be, and the harder it will be for us to keep the House and the White House,” the insider added.
In his endorsement statement, Clyburn — whose backing is widely credited with pushing Biden over the top during the 2020 Democratic primaries — specifically said the “defund the police” campaign reminded him of “Burn, baby, burn” from the 1960s. He also said that the progressives’ current sloganeering was “cutting the throats of the party.”
Israel too has also loomed large in the race. Though it’s not been a front and center issue, pro-Israel Jewish Democrats — fighting to keep the party from its pro-Hamas drift — have also lined up to defeat Turner.
The Pro-Israel America Political Action Committee has poured more than $115,000 into Brown in 2021 alone. Democratic Majority for Israel, an advocacy group, has been running attack ads in the district against Turner.
A clutch of pro-Israel House Democrats have also endorsed Brown, including New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer — a well known squad opponent.
“It comes down to the shifting attitudes toward Israel and its behavior in the occupied territories,” Paco Fabian, a spokesman for the Bernie Sanders-aligned political non-profit Our Revolution told The Post.
Fabian, who is backing Turner, said he was confident her grassroots strength would power her to victory.