The Trump-backed candidate J.D. Vance won the Ohio Republican Senate primary on Tuesday, while former Bernie Sanders presidential campaign co-chair Nina Turner lost the Democratic primary election for Ohio’s 11th Congressional District after massive outside spending and attacks by super PACs. We speak with Andrew Perez of The Lever about what Ohio’s elections mean for the future of the Democratic Party if it actively suppresses candidates like Turner who are critical of the establishment. Given that a majority Democratic Congress and sitting Democratic president have not delivered on campaign promises such as canceling student debt, protecting Roe v. Wade and passing Build Back Better, the party will be in jeopardy in the upcoming elections, says Perez.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, switching gears a little bit, about the outcome of primary races in Ohio, where J.D. Vance won the Republican Senate primary after getting the backing of Donald Trump, though he had attacked Trump years ago, even though his opponents had aired months of ads highlighting Vance’s anti-Trump statements of the past, including saying Trump could become America’s Hitler. Vance has since become an avid Trump supporter and praised the former president during his victory rally Tuesday night.
J.D. VANCE: Thanks to the president for everything, for endorsing me. And I’ve got to say, a lot of the fake news media out there — and there are some good ones in the back there; there are some bad ones, too, let’s be honest — but they wanted to write a story that this campaign would be the death of Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda. Ladies and gentlemen, it ain’t the death of the “America First” agenda.
AMY GOODMAN: J.D. Vance is a venture capitalist and author, who was heavily supported by right-wing tech billionaire Peter Thiel and will face off against Democratic Congressmember Tim Ryan in November’s election to fill the seat currently held by Republican Senator Rob Portman. Vance’s wife clerked for Justice Kavanaugh.
In another closely watched race in Ohio, Democratic Congressmember Shontel Brown defeated progressive challenger Nina Turner, the former co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. Turner teased a 2024 presidential bid in her concession speech last night.
NINA TURNER: Let me say this extemporaneously: Sister Turner ain’t going nowhere. My resolve tonight is intact. And this is what I do know, that in the spirit of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, I’m unbought, and I’m a boss. And that’s why that money came in here, because they know in the halls of Congress that I was going to shake that sucker, on behalf of the poor, the working poor and the barely middle class. But that’s all right, Pastor Early. They can’t contain this Black girl magic, because what I am going to do is I’m going to take this magic all over this country and shake it that way. And, baby, 2024 is coming. And I think the great state of California got something to say about what Sister Turner should do. The great state of Iowa got something to say about what Sister Turner should do. The great state of Nevada got something to say about what Sister Turner should do. But we ain’t going nowhere.
AMY GOODMAN: So, this comes as The Intercept reports Nina Turner had faced opposition from several political action committees, including the Democratic Majority for Israel PAC and the Protect Our Future PAC. Nina Turner also did not receive support from several progressive groups that had backed her previous run. One of those groups, the Justice Democrats, said in a statement, “Nina is a giant in the progressive movement and we’re proud to have gone all in for her campaign last year. The reality is our organization has to be strategic about our priorities as we are getting massively outgunned by Republican donors funneling millions to SuperPACs like AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and DMFI [Democratic Majority for Israel] against our existing candidates,” they said.
For more, we continue with Andrew Perez, senior editor and reporter at The Lever, who wrote about this race in a piece headlined “Oil Mogul Bankrolls Attempt To Buy Democratic Primary.” Andrew, explain what you found.
ANDREW PEREZ: Yeah. So, what we found was that the DMFI PAC in recent months has been just heavily funded by an oil heiress, Stacy Schusterman, who runs Samson Energy. And she had donated, I think, two-and-a-half million dollars to DMFI PAC since March. And DMFI PAC spent at least a million dollars on the race this cycle, and just really in the last few weeks. And they had also spent like almost $2 million last election against Nina and supporting Shontel Brown, who won.
And, you know, so a big part of the campaign really was just saying that Nina Turner was not a real Democrat because she had been critical of Joe Biden and critical of the party establishment. And, you know, I think what the results really show is that if — especially because it was much closer last time; this time it was not a close election at all. But, you know, if progressive groups don’t back candidates, especially candidates like Nina who have been really critical of the establishment, like, the party will — the party and its operatives will really, really sell out to destroy them. And, you know, we really saw what happened this time.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, and I wanted to ask you about that, because in the first race last year, there was only five percentage points difference between them; this time Nina Turner lost by two to one in the vote total. Was your sense that it was largely a result of divide among progressives, or did she not run as strong a campaign this time around as previously?
ANDREW PEREZ: You know, it sounds like a big issue really was that progressive groups weren’t really involved, and groups like DMFI really, really spent big in the last few weeks. And then Shontel Brown also had support from a super PAC led by a crypto billionaire, Sam Bankman-Fried. And that group also spent around a million dollars. And, you know, $2 million in one congressional race in a few weeks is just a pretty staggering sum of money, and it was clearly a lot to overcome.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about another issue that you’ve followed a lot. You recently wrote a piece with David Sirota titled “The Means-Test Con,” in which you discuss how the Biden administration is considering forgiving some student loan debt, but not the $50,000 congressional Democrats have pushed for. Could you talk about that and this whole — the battle over what the Biden policy should be on student loans?
ANDREW PEREZ: Sure. Yeah, so, the student loan issue, you know, Joe Biden did promise to cancel at least $10,000, on the campaign trail, of student debt. But, you know, he had also kind of pledged to cancel, like, kind of all federal student debt. And right now we don’t really know what the number is going to be. He says it won’t be $50,000, but his administration is signaling it will be at least $10,000. And for a lot of borrowers, it’s definitely good money, but it’s not altogether that helpful if you have larger loans or if you just have older loans with ballooning interest.
And the other issue is, yeah, the fact that they’re talking about imposing an income limit, you know, also known as a means test. And, you know, that kind of thing, it’s funny. It polls well, in theory. It’s definitely popular among pundits, especially because there’s this odd argument that student loan cancellation would really benefit the wealthy, which is just not really borne out by facts at all or borne out by data. But, you know, the issue there is that it creates a paperwork headache for people. It’s going to — you know, poorer borrowers might just not even have their loans kind of forgiven automatically then. But, you know, there’s also the universality issue, right? Like, you know, the U.S. has some universal programs, and they’re popular, right? Like Social Security and Medicare are very popular. And when you start creating this kind of means-tested program, it starts to be viewed less favorably. It starts to be viewed as a welfare program and then — and it’s much easier for opponents to attack, and it might also make it more difficult for people to have their loans canceled.
AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Perez, I wanted to move on to another piece that you’ve done, on marijuana legalization. You recently wrote about “The Manchin Family’s Short-Lived Cannabis Dream.” Tell us about it.
ANDREW PEREZ: Sure. So, Joe Manchin is one of a handful of conservative Democrats who are standing in the way of federal legalization of marijuana. And, you know, it’s funny. A bunch of those Democrats, the handful that are being talked about right now, represent states that have either legalized weed for either recreational or medical use, just like West Virginia has. West Virginia is legalized for medical.
And we found records showing that Joe Manchin’s son, Joe Manchin IV, registered an LLC called Wonderfully Wild LLC for the purpose of getting into the marijuana business. It’s detailed right in state records. And we got to speak with him, and he told us that he didn’t end up getting into the business because it just doesn’t make a lot of financial sense right now.
But we also saw that the LLC, he had been using it to buy up some tax liens locally and was given deeds to two homes right around the start of the pandemic. But, you know, he kind of assured us that he had reached agreements with those people to allow them to stay in their homes or that they’re working on payment plans to kind of take back their homes, like as we speak.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Andrew Perez, I’d like to ask you, in terms of the prospects for the midterm elections: Given the events of the last couple of weeks, clearly, what appears to be a Supreme Court decision that will end Roe v. Wade and now, of course, the victory of the Trump-backed J.D. Vance in the Republican primary in Ohio, what do you see, from your perspective, of the prospects that the Democratic Party faces as it heads into the midterm election?
ANDREW PEREZ: Sure. You know, I guess it’s pretty widely accepted that things are not looking good for Democrats. There’s been a whole lot of kind of blame shifting going around about how the party is not messaging properly or that certain left-wing agenda items are hurting the party’s cause. But, you know, there’s also the issue that the party really hasn’t done a whole lot in terms of like direct aid to people at all since the COVID relief bill over a year ago. And, you know, they spent the better part of last year debating an agenda bill that they failed to enact entirely.
So, you know, I guess what you’re hearing today is that Democratic operatives in Washington think that the end of Roe might kind of help them mobilize voters. But, you know, it’s really definitely to be determined. And it’s not — it’s obviously an issue that has just giant repercussions for people, especially poorer people, people of color. So, it’s definitely a big issue, and it’s not just a political [inaudible]. It’s going to have a giant effect on people’s lives.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Andrew, let’s end with where we began, which was with the elections in Ohio, but with J.D. Vance, the best-selling author of Hillbilly Elegy, the Trump-supported Republican senatorial candidate, winning. Its significance?
ANDREW PEREZ: Mm-hmm. You know, so, it’s definitely — you know, it’s going to be perceived as a win for Trump, because Donald Trump did endorse his campaign. His son had definitely done a lot of rallies with him, as did the former president. And both candidates were pretty conservative.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
ANDREW PEREZ: I guess J.D. Vance is probably seen as, you know, more anti-establishment. But, you know, I guess it’s probably not terribly different than if Josh Mandel had won.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Andrew Perez, senior editor and reporter at The Lever. We’ll link to your reports at democracynow.org.
That does it for our show. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Camille Baker, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Mary Conlon, Juan Carlos Dávila. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.