Former Ohio state senator and top Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner is contemplating a run for Rep. Marcia Fudge’s seat if Joe Biden brings the Ohio member of Congress into his administration, according to two people close to Turner.
“I have encouraged her to run if the seat is open as that is her congressional district and she would have the immediate support of the national Bernie movement,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a fellow former Sanders campaign co-chair. “She’d be a fantastic ally for the movement in Congress.”
Reached by phone, Turner was coy. “Currently, there is no vacancy in the district and if it becomes vacant, things will unfold as they should,” she said.
Fudge has been boosted by the Congressional Black Caucus for a Cabinet role. On Tuesday, close Biden ally and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn told “Morning Joe” that “it may not be at Agriculture, but she will be nominated to be in the Cabinet.”
Pressed on whether she was considering a run, Turner said: “Well, there’s been an outcry for me to at least consider it. You know, I’m a public servant through and through, but I’m just going to leave it there for now.”
Turner, 53, represented the Cleveland area as a state senator from 2008 to 2014 and served on the Cleveland city council before that. She had weighed running for the House seat in 2008 when it was last open, but ultimately decided to campaign for the state Senate instead.
As she considers the possibility, Turner is being coaxed by left-wing activists, aides and elected officials to throw her hat in the ring. They said her campaign would be an invigorating cause to rally around post-2020 and a vindication of the Sanders movement if she won.
Progressive Rep.-elect Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a former Sanders surrogate herself, tweeted Sunday in support of a potential Turner campaign, saying it “would be a dream to work alongside her in Congress.”
Several former Sanders staffers said that Turner could count on enlisting many of the Vermont senator’s past aides if she pulls the trigger. She could also tap into at least part of Sanders’ small-dollar fundraising machine that brought in over $200 million during the primary. Turner has a close relationship with many in Sanders’ inner circle.
“I think she is being measured in her evaluation of the situation, but those around her are super excited about it,” said Heather Gautney, a former senior Sanders aide. “Everyone around her is saying, ‘Do it, do it, do it.’”
NinaTurnerforCongress.com was already purchased on Nov. 24 by someone in Ohio, according to GoDaddy’s WHOIS database. Turner told POLITICO that she did not buy it and whoever did hasn’t told her.
In September, Turner started her own Ohio-based public affairs firm. Turner told POLITICO then that Amare Public Affairs would handle crisis management, coalition work, and communications for “corporations, nonprofits and other entities that have a social justice component.”
As a former campaign co-chair for Sanders who toured the country stumping for him and was a regular surrogate on cable TV, several in Bernie world said Turner also has a grassroots following among his fans.
“There is no one more popular among Bernie supporters, no one who received bigger cheers at rallies, and no one who works harder than SNT,” said Ari Rabin-Havt, Sanders’ 2020 deputy campaign manager, who said he is speaking for himself. Turner’s “hello, somebody” flourish during stump speeches became a rallying cry for many Sanders supporters.
Turner may be weighing presidential politics as well. The former state senator has already said she is thinking about running for president in 2024. A congressional seat would be a better launchpad for such a campaign than her consultancy, but her prospects would also be severely damaged if she runs and loses the primary.
She would likely face even steeper odds in a presidential contest than did Sanders, a veteran senator and House member. The last time Turner ran for higher office was as the Democratic nominee for secretary of state in Ohio in 2014 when she earned 35 percent of the vote. While she outran the top of the ticket candidate who ran against Gov. John Kasich, she underperformed the other three Democrats running statewide.
There are at least six other potential candidates who could enter the Ohio race, Cleveland.com recently reported, including Olivet Institutional Baptist Church pastor Jawanza Colvin. The Republican Gov. Mike DeWine would set the date of the special election in the event of a vacancy.
Theodoric Meyer contributed to this report.