COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Mike Carey, a coal lobbyist backed by former President Donald Trump, won a Republican primary Tuesday for an open U.S. House seat in central Ohio that tested Trump's status as kingmaker. While centrist County Councilwoman Shontel Brown held off progressive Nina Turner in the race for the other open seat.
The political newcomer Carey defeated a crowd of other candidates, including some with establishment backing and experience in state politics. He’ll take on Democratic state Rep. Allison Russo, a health policy consultant who won the Democratic nomination, in the GOP-leaning Columbus-area district.
Carey’s victory was a win for Trump, who has prided himself on swaying elections, after he suffered a blow to his reputation last week when his preferred candidate in a Texas special election lost. Trump quickly celebrated Carey’s win Tuesday in a statement.
”Thank you to Ohio and all of our wonderful American patriots," he said. "Congratulations to Mike and his family. He will never let you down!”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, the state's highest ranking Democrat, congratulated Russo, one of his group of young promising “canary candidates.”
“Now we get to work to elect a champion for Ohio working families this November,” he tweeted.
The Carey win was a blow to former U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, a moderate Republican who retired from the 15th District in May. He had endorsed state Rep. Jeff LaRe, a security executive with law enforcement experience, in the race.
But both LaRe and Stivers congratulated Carey, with Stivers pledging, “I will personally support him in the General Election.”
Ohio voters also weighed a closely fought Democratic primary in the Cleveland area, where Brown, backed by Hillary Clinton, defeated Turner. The race was seen as a fierce competition between progressives and Democratic centrists for the 11th Congressional District seat formerly held by Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Democrat appointed as President Joe Biden’s housing chief in March.
The former state Sen. Turner, a leading national voice for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns, was the best known among the 13 Democrats who ran in the primary and the choice of Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others.
Brown will face Laverne Gore, a business owner, consultant, trainer and community activist, who defeated Felicia Ross, a self-described “Jane of all trades,” in Tuesday's Republican primary. There's little chance a Republican could take the heavily Democratic district in the fall, meaning Brown is likely to be the area's next congressional representative.
The race came at a pivotal moment for the progressive movement. Centrists have been ascendant in the early months of the Joe Biden era, while the party’s left flank has faced a series of defeats — in New York City’s mayoral race, a Virginia gubernatorial primary and a Louisiana House race.
Meanwhile, a contingent of moderates are worried that a leftward drift could cost the party seats in the midterms next year. Biden hasn't heeded the left’s calls for more aggressive action on certain issues, including voting rights and immigration.
That’s left progressive leaders searching for new strategies that can bolster its influence.
For Republicans, the Columbus-area race emerged as a test of Trump’s influence, particularly after last week's loss in Texas. As president, Trump boasted of his sway over politicians' political fortunes, with a strong record of backing winners. Since he left office, candidates have scrambled to get his endorsement, even lining up at times for reality-show style interviews.
All of the candidates in the GOP primary billed themselves as conservatives and many boasted more legislative-branch experience than Carey, including LaRe, state Sens. Bob Peterson and Stephanie Kunze and former state Rep. Ron Hood. In the end, they divided the vote and left Carey with a winning share but far from a majority of votes.
Julie Carr Smyth, The Associated Press