Veteran Ohio Democrat Survives Progressive Primary Challenge

·6 min read
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) speaks at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. She has a relatively liberal record, but does not challenge the party establishment. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) speaks at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. She has a relatively liberal record, but does not challenge the party establishment. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Rep. Joyce Beatty won the Democratic House primary in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, staving off a challenge from progressive consumer rights attorney Morgan Harper.

Harper’s bid to unseat Beatty, who has represented the city in Congress since 2013, reflects the activist left’s difficulty dislodging incumbent Democrats in primary contests.

Harper was backed by Justice Democrats, the left-wing group that propelled Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) to victory in New York in 2018.

But Beatty’s connection to her district and her progressive voting record made her a tougher target for a challenger. Beatty is, for instance, a longtime co-sponsor of House legislation that would create a single-payer “Medicare for All” health care system. And as chair of the Financial Services Committee’s subcommittee on diversity and inclusion, she delivered a well-received interrogation of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in October.

She is now almost certain to return to Congress for another term. Republicans are not competitive in the gerrymandered district.

Harper “did connect with a small faction within the Democratic Party, but Beatty has been an institution within the community,” said Herb Asher, a political science professor at the Ohio State University.

In fact, Beatty claimed to have deeper roots in the community than Harper, who only recently moved back to the district from New York.

“It is insulting and offensive that you would have someone that would come here with as much need as we have and ask people to vote for you when you never voted for them,” Beatty told Politico.

Despite higher name recognition and a major cash advantage, Beatty, 70, also campaigned ardently against Harper, 36. As vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Beatty mobilized support from her fellow Black lawmakers. The caucus held a fundraiser for Beatty at a Washington lobbying firm in late February. (Harper is also Black.)

“She did not take her opponent for granted,” Asher said of Beatty.

She did not take her opponent for granted. Herb Asher, The Ohio State University

Harper, who was a former senior adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, criticized Beatty for relying on donations from wealthy donors and corporate political action committees. Harper, by contrast, refused to accept contributions from corporate PACs.

She also focused on the role that she argued Beatty and her husband, influential attorney Otto Beatty, played in making Columbus less hospitable to poor and working-class families. Although he recused himself from the vote, Otto served on a zoning board that signed off on a rule enabling him to sell some downtown property to a developer for $800,000 in 2013.

Beatty, Harper said in a television advertisement, is “profiting off of gentrification and taking money from corporations.”

Harper would have been not only more progressive than Beatty on individual policy questions, but likely also a more independent and anti-establishment kind of lawmaker. She would be a de facto addition to the radical quartet of freshman women known as the “Squad,” which is part of a small contingent of left-wing lawmakers willing to publicly break with Democratic House leadership to advance their priorities.

Ohio congressional candidate Morgan Harper at a rally. (Photo: Morgan Harper )
Ohio congressional candidate Morgan Harper at a rally. (Photo: Morgan Harper )

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) to cancel the state’s primary elections on March 17. The legislature ultimately postponed them until April 28, requiring all votes to be cast by absentee ballot, which voters can cast by mail or drop off by hand.

The later election deadline bought Harper additional time, but it saddled her with other disadvantages. The new date deprived her of the chance to be on the ballot while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was still running, or at a time when left-leaning students at Ohio State were still on campus.

In an interview with HuffPost earlier this month, Harper declined to criticize Beatty as she had in the past. She instead emphasized how the pandemic had made clear the need for more dramatic changes in American society ― changes like the adoption of Medicare for All and a universal paid family and sick leave policy.

“It’s not that we do what it takes to address the emergency immediately at hand or think about the most systemic solutions, it’s both,” she said.

And though Harper’s army of volunteers could no longer muster the same canvassing might that often boosts insurgent candidates, she mobilized her team to deliver an estimated 4,000 absentee ballot request forms. (The Ohio government did not deliver absentee ballots or the request forms to voters by mail.)

In the end, though, Harper either lacked a critical mass of hardcore progressive voters clamoring for an independent-minded newcomer, or the good fortune to run for office at a time when she could campaign more heavily in person.

“There’s obviously been a group as it relates to Columbus city politics that are trying to make the case that the city Democrats are too establishment and work too closely with the business community and the developers,” Asher said. “That did not carry over into the congressional race.”

Thus far, Justice Democrats, a group that exclusively targets members in safe Democratic seats, has had limited success in unseating incumbent members of Congress. With a big boost from mainstream pro-choice groups like EMILY’s List, Justice Democrats helped nonprofit executive Marie Newman defeat Rep. Dan Lipinski, a conservative Illinois Democrat, on March 17. (Newman’s success followed a narrow loss to Lipinski in 2018.)

In South Texas, Justice Democrats-backed immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros fell just short in her bid to unseat Rep. Henry Cuellar, another conservative Democrat. Cuellar won the March 3 race by less than 4 percentage points.

Black members of Congress, who make up a disproportionate share of Democrats in safe seats, have proven to be especially adept at beating back primary challenges.

Notably, Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders endorsed Newman and Cisneros, but did not throw their weight behind Harper.

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Selfie Time

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), shoots a video selfie as he heads to the House floor for votes on March 4, 2015.
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), shoots a video selfie as he heads to the House floor for votes on March 4, 2015.

Giffords' Voice

Former Congresswoman and handgun violence survivor Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) speaks during a news conference about background checks for gun purchases at the Canon House Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 4, 2015.
Former Congresswoman and handgun violence survivor Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) speaks during a news conference about background checks for gun purchases at the Canon House Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 4, 2015.

Netanyahu Speaks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he steps to the lectern prior to speaking before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 3, 2015. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) applaud.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he steps to the lectern prior to speaking before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 3, 2015. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) applaud.

Netanyahu Speaks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves after speaking before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 3, 2015.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves after speaking before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 3, 2015.

Twinning

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) chuckles as she starts a news conference by donning dark glasses, a teasingly sympathetic gesture to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as he recovers from a serious injury to his right eye, suffered while exercising at his Nevada home during the holidays. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) chuckles as she starts a news conference by donning dark glasses, a teasingly sympathetic gesture to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) as he recovers from a serious injury to his right eye, suffered while exercising at his Nevada home during the holidays. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Smooch

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) responds to reporters about the impasse over passing the Homeland Security budget because of Republican efforts to block President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration on Feb. 26, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) responds to reporters about the impasse over passing the Homeland Security budget because of Republican efforts to block President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration on Feb. 26, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Code Pink Targets Kerry

Code Pink protesters hold up a sign as Secretary of State John Kerry arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 25, 2015, to testify before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
Code Pink protesters hold up a sign as Secretary of State John Kerry arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 25, 2015, to testify before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

Cool Shades

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) (left) speaks as  Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) listens during a news briefing after the weekly Senate Democratic Policy Luncheon on Feb. 24, 2015. Reid was wearing glasses following a recent eye surgery.
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Space Socks

The socks of former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin are shown as he testifies before the Senate Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee on Capitol Hill on Feb. 24, 2015.
The socks of former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin are shown as he testifies before the Senate Space, Science, and Competitiveness Subcommittee on Capitol Hill on Feb. 24, 2015.

Kerry Plots

Secretary of State John Kerry appears before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs on Feb. 24, 2015, to talk about fiscal year 2016 funding for the State Department.
Secretary of State John Kerry appears before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs on Feb. 24, 2015, to talk about fiscal year 2016 funding for the State Department.

Liberace In Washington

A cardboard cutout of Las Vegas star Liberace stands outside the office of Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) in the Cannon House Office Building on Feb. 18, 2015.
A cardboard cutout of Las Vegas star Liberace stands outside the office of Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) in the Cannon House Office Building on Feb. 18, 2015.

Workers Rally

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) attends a rally with labor groups, including the American Federation of Government Employees, in Upper Senate Park to support federal workers and the working class, on Feb. 10, 2015.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) attends a rally with labor groups, including the American Federation of Government Employees, in Upper Senate Park to support federal workers and the working class, on Feb. 10, 2015.

Senate Laughter

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) (3rd L) laughs as he talks to (L-R) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) before a news conference on currency and trade Feb. 10, 2015, on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) (3rd L) laughs as he talks to (L-R) Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) before a news conference on currency and trade Feb. 10, 2015, on Capitol Hill.

Carrying Reagan Through The Capitol

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) walks through the basement of the Capitol with a painting of former President Ronald Reagan by artist Steve Penley on Feb. 11, 2015. The painting will be added to Issa's collection of Reagan memorabilia.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) walks through the basement of the Capitol with a painting of former President Ronald Reagan by artist Steve Penley on Feb. 11, 2015. The painting will be added to Issa's collection of Reagan memorabilia.

Sad Speaker

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) holds his weekly press conference in the Capitol on Feb. 5, 2015.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) holds his weekly press conference in the Capitol on Feb. 5, 2015.

Group Hug

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Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) gives a group hug to students from the Richard Wright Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., during his National School Choice Forum in the Hart Senate Office Building on Feb. 9, 2015.

Ukraine In Washington

Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 5, 2015. Delegates from the Ukrainian Parliament joined members of the House of Representatives to appeal for lethal military aid from the U.S.
Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 5, 2015. Delegates from the Ukrainian Parliament joined members of the House of Representatives to appeal for lethal military aid from the U.S.

Back On The Hill

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) speaks to the media as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) listens, following the Senate Democrats' policy lunch on Feb. 3, 2015.
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CodePink

The protest group CodePink disrupts a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, carrying banners calling former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger a "war criminal" as he and fellow former Secretary of States George Shultz and Madeleine Albright were set to testify on U.S. national security on Capitol Hill on Jan. 29, 2015.
The protest group CodePink disrupts a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, carrying banners calling former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger a "war criminal" as he and fellow former Secretary of States George Shultz and Madeleine Albright were set to testify on U.S. national security on Capitol Hill on Jan. 29, 2015.

Democratic Retreat

Naomi Sherman, 4, right, along with her father, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.); mother, Lisa; and sisters, Lucy, 2, and Molly, 5, prepares to board a bus that will take House Democrats and their families to a retreat in Philadelphia on Jan. 28, 2015.
Naomi Sherman, 4, right, along with her father, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.); mother, Lisa; and sisters, Lucy, 2, and Molly, 5, prepares to board a bus that will take House Democrats and their families to a retreat in Philadelphia on Jan. 28, 2015.

Did You See That?

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), left, and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) talk before a news conference in the Capitol's Senate studio to "respond to the Obama administration's efforts to lock up millions of acres of the nation's richest oil and natural gas prospects on the Arctic coastal plain and move to block development of Alaska's offshore resources" on Jan. 26, 2015.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), left, and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) talk before a news conference in the Capitol's Senate studio to "respond to the Obama administration's efforts to lock up millions of acres of the nation's richest oil and natural gas prospects on the Arctic coastal plain and move to block development of Alaska's offshore resources" on Jan. 26, 2015.

That's A Big Hammer

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), left, reacts as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) brings out a giant gavel while making remarks during an executive business meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 22, 2015. Leahy ceremonially passed the gavel to Grassley who has taken up the chairmanship after the Republicans won the majority in the Senate.
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State Of The Union Excitement

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) as senators arrive for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in the Capitol on Jan. 20, 2015.
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SOTU Selfie

Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) takes a selfie with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) as Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) sits nearby before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Jan. 20, 2015.
Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) takes a selfie with Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) as Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) sits nearby before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Jan. 20, 2015.

Hello, Mr. President

President Barack Obama, bottom right, is greeted by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), center, as he arrives to deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 20, 2015.
President Barack Obama, bottom right, is greeted by Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), center, as he arrives to deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Jan. 20, 2015.

Making His Point

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) holds a news conference on the budget on Jan. 16, 2015.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) holds a news conference on the budget on Jan. 16, 2015.

Searching The Senator

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and his wife, Laura, have their luggage inspected by a police dog before boarding a bus that will take Republican senators to a retreat in Hershey, Pa., January 14, 2015.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and his wife, Laura, have their luggage inspected by a police dog before boarding a bus that will take Republican senators to a retreat in Hershey, Pa., January 14, 2015.

Retreating From Capitol Hill

Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) walks by immigration protesters on his way to one of the buses outside the Rayburn House Office Building as House Republicans prepare to head to Hershey, Pa., for their retreat with Senate Republicans on Jan. 14, 2015.
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Just A Joke

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) fools around with colleagues upon arriving for a news conference on Guantanamo detainees in the Senate studio on Jan. 13, 2015.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) fools around with colleagues upon arriving for a news conference on Guantanamo detainees in the Senate studio on Jan. 13, 2015.

Oh Boy!

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill on Jan. 13, 2015. House Democrats spoke about U.S. President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) speaks during a press conference on Capitol Hill on Jan. 13, 2015. House Democrats spoke about U.S. President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.

Paying Off The Bet

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From left, Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) make symbols that spell "Ohio" on Jan. 13, 2015, as the result of a football bet. Ohio State beat the University of Oregon 42-20 in the NCAA national football championship.

Frustration

Cleanliness

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) sanitizes his hands while talking on his cell phone outside the Mansfield Room in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) sanitizes his hands while talking on his cell phone outside the Mansfield Room in the Capitol on Jan. 8, 2015.

Hats In The Hallways

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Baby Face

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) holds Andrea Elena Castro, daughter of Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), second from right, before the 114th Congress was sworn in on the House floor of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2015.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) holds Andrea Elena Castro, daughter of Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), second from right, before the 114th Congress was sworn in on the House floor of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2015.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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