The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Trailer’s guide to the November congressional elections

It’s an off-year for congressional elections, but three new members of Congress will officially or essentially be chosen in special elections happening Nov. 2: the Democratic primary for Florida’s 20th Congressional District and the general elections in Ohio’s 11th and 15th districts.

None of the seats up for grabs are expected to flip to the other party and affect control of Congress, but the reporting we’ve done on each of them for the Trailer has been revealing about the local and national political environments. Here’s what we’ve learned and what you should know.

Florida’s 20th District Democratic primary

There are 11 Democrats vying for their party’s nomination for the seat left open by the death of Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D) in the spring. The general election will happen in January — Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) set a prolonged election, keeping Democrats’ margin in the House smaller while the seat sits empty — and whoever wins this primary will be heavily favored in this Biden +55 district.

The candidates: Health-care executive Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Elvin Dowling, state Rep. Bobby DuBose, state Rep. Omari Hardy, Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief, state Sen. Perry Thurston, former Palm Beach County commissioner Priscilla Taylor, Phil Jackson, Emmanuel Morel and Imran Siddiqui.

The dynamic: Just like the spring and summer races in Louisiana, New Mexico and Ohio, the prize is a safely Democratic seat. Unlike those races, in which candidates stressed their support for President Biden, the Florida race is marked by frustration at how Democrats are using their power in Washington, and criticism — sometimes mixed with disbelief — of the administration's policies toward migrants and asylum seekers.

That frustration wasn’t there yet when the campaign began. DeSantis’s decision to wait to set the election roiled the race, with one candidate, Dowling, even suing over the delay and its effect on majority-Black parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties. Holness and other ambitious local Democrats who already held state or local office had to announce their resignations so they could run, per Florida law, leading to more underrepresentation and more anger at the process.

No candidate could clearly run as next in line; Holness said Hastings had endorsed him shortly before dying, but the late congressman left no statement or video making it official. Several candidates had entered the race before Hastings died; all of them have accused Holness, who did work closely with Hastings, of inventing the endorsement.

And unlike the race to represent Ohio's 11th Congressional District, which attracted millions of dollars to help or defeat former state Sen. Nina Turner, national Democratic groups stayed out of the race.

Instead, candidates have taken sides in the Democratic fight over passing most of Biden’s agenda in the budget reconciliation bill and pledged to change its policy toward Haiti. Nearly 200,000 Haitian Americans live in Broward and Palm Beach counties, most of them in the 20th District. While many are not eligible to vote, the candidates have rallied with them, echoing criticism from both South Florida Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus. Where the candidates differ on that issue isn’t over whether to let more Haitians come to the United States, but over how many resources they’d fight for to make that happen.

Ohio’s 11th District

Shontel Brown narrowly won the Democratic primary in August in a special election to replace Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge, and is all but certain to win the Nov. 2 election and represent the Cleveland-based 11th Congressional District.

Business executive Laverne Gore is the GOP nominee for the second time in the 11th District. She lost to Fudge in 2020 by more than 60 points.

The backstory: Things got a lot more interesting in the primary, which pitted two wings of the Democratic Party against one another.

Early this summer, Brown was in trouble. Nina Turner, the former Ohio state senator who’d co-chaired the last presidential campaign for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), had comfortably outraised her. Brown released an internal poll that gave her 50 percent of the vote in the jampacked primary, to just 15 percent for Brown.

HuffPost called Turner’s a “normie campaign,” a reboot for a candidate whose fight against the Democratic Party’s leadership once brought her to a 2016 counter-DNC convention with the Green Party’s candidate for president. (“Dr. Jill Stein in the house!”) Democratic Majority for Israel PAC’s first ad warned voters that the old Turner was the real one, and summed up her criticism of the party with a quote she gave the Atlantic in 2020: “You have a bowl of s--- in front of you, and all you’ve got to do is eat half of it instead of the whole thing.’ It’s still s---.”

The Brown team's attacks on Turner worked, and Turner struggled to convince voters that Brown was corrupt or manipulated by donors. When early voting began, in mid-July, Brown had closed the gap with Turner, and the onetime favorite was pulled into a negative ad war that drained her resources.

Turner's spending and her refusal to deal with what we'll euphemistically call the “half a bowl” issue were decisive factors in her loss, creating space for DMFI PAC to discredit her with suburban voters and a good share of older Black voters. A grass-roots effort to turn out Jewish voters for Brown added to her margins on the east side of the district.

For Turner, the story of the race was that big money came in and manipulated voters. And she may be back for another shot at the seat in the May 2022 primary. In September, she filed FEC paperwork to keep her Nina Turner for Us campaign active.

Ohio’s 15th District

Republican Mike Carey, chair of the Ohio Coal Association, is expected to win the seat vacated by Rep. Steve Stivers in this Central Ohio district that includes Columbus’s outskirts and exurbs. Stivers quit Congress in the spring to lead the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

Carey will face state Rep. Allison Russo (D) in the district President Donald Trump won by 14 points in 2020.

The backstory: Trump backed Carey, a conservative attorney who had less local support than some state legislators seeking the seat. Carey’s campaign built up the endorsement, and his short speech in July at a Trump rally, into his paid media. Stivers backed state Rep. Jeff LaRe.

“We have a chance to truly put an ‘America First’ candidate in Congress,” Carey said at Trump's rally. “My voting record will look a hell of a lot more like [Ohio Rep.] Jim Jordan's than the former congressman who held the seat.”

Trump’s endorsement helped Carey win a crowded primary, but Russo worked to make the race competitive, raising nearly $275,000 and buying TV ads. Carey responded with his own ad campaign linking Russo to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and warning of a “crumbling economy” if Democrats kept control of the House.