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Two House special elections in Ohio highlight divisions in both parties

Latest on Ohio's 11th Congressional District race
Local Matters: Ohio's 11th Congressional District race enters final stretch 06:39

Two contentious special election primaries in Ohio for open congressional seats wrapped up on Tuesday night. Both highlighted the divisiveness and rancor within the Democratic and Republican Parties ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

The Associated Press projected Mike Carey, who was backed by former President Trump, won the GOP primary in Ohio's 15th congressional district on Tuesday night. He will face state Representative Allison Russo, who the AP projected as the winner of Tuesday's Democratic primary. 

"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," Carey said in a statement Tuesday night.  

The Associated Press also projected Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Chair Shontel Brown as the winner in Ohio's 11th Democratic primary. She beat Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign co-chair Nina Turner, who was backed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders.

Brown will face Republican Laverne Gore in a district President Biden won with 80 percent of the vote.

"I'm not about lip service. I've been about public service," Brown said at her victory party. "Potentially the next member of the 11th Congressional district... can walk into the door with good relationships."

Brown was backed by the establishment, including the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus, Democratic House Whip James Clyburn and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. But Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, who vacated the Cleveland-area seat to take the cabinet position, backed Turner. 

Special Election Primary Held In Ohio's 11th Congressional District
People arrive to vote during the Special Election Primary at Cudell Recreation Center in Ohio's 11th Congressional District on August 03, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio.  Michael M Santiago/GettyImages / Getty Images

In the runup to what has been the most expensive House special election race so far this year, the two had been blanketing the airwaves with attack ads. Turner had accused Brown of "using office to enrich friends, family" and herself, voting as a member of Cuyahoga County Council to award multimillion-dollar contracts to her boyfriend's company. Brown's campaign and supporters often argued she'll be a representative who can work with Mr. Biden to bring results, rather than challenge the party's establishment from the left.

"You need a candidate that once they get to Washington, they can get right in and get something done. You don't need somebody who's going to go there and talk about tearing the place up, doing all that," Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said at a late July event for Brown. 

"What you need is somebody who will be a good Democrat… who supports Joe Biden as President," he added.

But Turner had been the leading fundraiser in the Democratic field, bringing in at least $4.5 million according to the last Federal Elections Commission report. However, she said that other outside groups such as the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC and "dark money" had been outspending her, with about $3.5 million in total flooding the district with anti-Turner mailers and television ads. 

"The corporatists... the status quo keepers and seekers are throwing everything at us to try and stop this movement," Turner said at a July virtual rally with Our Revolution, an outside group of which Turner previously served as president.. "There is no depth too low for these people to go."

During her concession speech, Turner blamed "evil money" for her loss and promised she "would work hard to ensure that something like this never happens to a progressive candidate again." 

"We didn't lose this race, evil money manipulated and maligned this election," she said.

Turner and the groups supporting her had pointed to differences between the two on universal healthcare and cancelling student loan debt.

"If you want somebody who's not just going to be another member of Congress, but somebody who's got the guts to speak out on the important issues and fight for working people, I am here today to urge you to elect Nina Turner as your next member of Congress," Sanders said at a rally the weekend before the primary.

Thirteen Democrats ran in Tuesday's primary. Brown will be the heavy favorite for the special general election in November. 

Mr. Trump and national Republicans had been closely watching the GOP primary in Ohio's 15th district, especially after the  Republican candidate he endorsed lost in Texas' 6th District runoff last month.

In the Ohio race, Mr. Trump backed coal lobbyist Mike Carey for the heavily Republican seat left vacant by Congressman Steve Stivers, who resigned in May to become president of the state Chamber of Commerce. The Make America Great Again PAC spent $348,000 on an 11th-hour ad buy for Carey in late July.

"Numerous candidates... are saying that I am supporting them, when in actuality, I don't know them, and don't even know who they are. But I do know who Mike Carey is — I know a lot about him, and it is all good," Mr. Trump said in a statement. 

However, Stivers had backed state Representative Jeff LaRe and spent $344,000 on ads to boost his candidacy. Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul spent about $680,000 to support yet another candidate, former state Representative Ron Hood. State Senator Bob Peterson also ran in the primary, and was backed by state Senate President Larry Obhof on Monday.

Debbie Meadow, the wife of Mr. Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows, has a political action committee that backed Columbus NAACP President Ruth Edwards. 

Eleven Republicans in total were on the ballot in Ohio's 15th District, which Mr. Trump won by more than 14 points.

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