Moderate Democrat and Cuyahoga County Council member Shontel Brown overcame a sizeable polling deficit in Ohio’s District 11 to beat progressive candidate and former Ohio state senator Nina Turner in the Democratic primary on Tuesday.
In her victory speech, Brown thanked “my Jewish brothers and sisters” and reiterated her support for the U.S.-Israel relationship to a crowd of celebrating supporters. The district is majority African-American with a sizeable Jewish minority, who pundits speculated may have provided Brown the votes she needed to clinch victory.
“Brotherhood brought it home!” someone in the crowd called as she praised the Jewish community’s efforts on her behalf.
“When you stand on the land where you see a person facing firecrackers dropped by a drone from the Gaza Strip, when you are a few feet from a bomb shelter, you appreciate the vulnerability of a state, and that has given me understanding of the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” she said, to cheers.
As the district is overwhelmingly Democrat, Brown is widely expected to coast to a victory in the general election to fill Marcia Fudge’s congressional seat. President Joe Biden appointed Fudge as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development last year.
The election was considered by many observers to be a referendum on the current state of the Democratic party, with moderates and progressives each pushing their preferred candidates and causes aggressively. Brown, the preferred candidate of the party’s moderate wing, gained support from powerful establishment figures such as House Majority Whip James Clyburn, the Congressional Black Caucus (both Brown and Turner are African-American) and pro-Israel Democrats.
Brown, who travelled to Israel on a sponsored trip with the Cleveland Jewish Federation, has repeatedly reiterated her support for Israel and financial and military aid to Israel. She was backed by Democratic Majority for Israel, Jewish Democratic Council of America, and the the Pro-Israel America PAC.
DMFI spent millions in ads for Brown, and president Mark Mellman said in a statement, “We are thrilled to congratulate Councilwoman Shontel Brown on her stunning upset primary victory tonight, and we are proud to have supported her successful campaign for the Democratic nomination in Ohio’s 11th District.
“This is a tremendous victory, not only for Councilwoman Brown personally, but also for the pro-Biden-Harris, pro-Israel majority in the Democratic Party.
“Shontel Brown’s victory, as a champion of the U.S.-Israel relationship, reaffirms that being pro-Israel is good politics as well as wise policy. Most Democrats support a strong U.S.-Israel alliance, based on both our shared values and our shared interests.”
Turner, who was endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar. She previously worked on Sanders 2020 campaign, and presented herself as a progressive figure, but was haunted by remarks of her insulting Biden and for refusing to say who she voted for in 2016. She never commented extensively on her views on Israel, but retweeted far-left groups and has said she supported conditioning aid to Israel. She did not endorse BDS.
In her concession speech Tuesday night, Turner said, “I am going to work hard to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen to another progressive candidate again. We didn’t lose this race, evil money manipulated and maligned this election.” The remarks were noted by many for their similarities to antisemitic tropes.
In an interview with Hamodia, Ohio local Howie Beigelman said he believed it may have been Jewish voters who made the difference in the race.
Beigelman, is the executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, the statewide government advocacy and public affairs arm of the state’s eight Jewish Federations. He told Hamodia the largest Jewish communities in Ohio are in District 11, and the community was engaged and informed during the low-turnout race. He stressed that while Israel became an important issue in the race, the Jewish community wanted someone who they believed they could continue a positive working relationship with for local concerns, as they previously had with both Brown and Turner.
Beigelman said the Jewish community worked well with Turner when she was a state representative. “She had worked with the Orthodox community specifically as a state senator, on school choice programs,” he said. “That was not an easy choice for her. She got flack for that at the time….people felt like they could work with her.”
When the issue of Israel began to animate the race, he said, that’s when people started to be concerned. “I think she tried to show there was a way to criticize Israeli government policy without being antisemitic and we all know that’s possible, but I don’t think she convinced the community that’s what would happen.”
As for Turner’s concession speech, Beigelman said, “I thought that the concession speech language was worrisome. I can’t say it crossed a direct line, but it came very close to a line.”
Brown also had working relationships with the Jewish community, Beigelman told Hamodia, and her Israel views were more aligned with the community. “People knew Shontel in a very different way locally, they connected with her, the Israel piece definitely animated a lot of people, definitely in the wake of the conflict with Hamas.”
There was a strong grassroots effort among the Jewish community, he said. A group of yeshiva students contacted every Orthodox household to keep the eligible voters informed. Jewish community members, he said, “educated voters, knocked on doors, got out to vote” and showed that “when you educate voters and talk to voters, in the real world, offline, things people are saying online aren’t true.”
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