COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Progressive Morgan Harper jumped into the race for an open U.S. Senate seat in Ohio on Wednesday, promising to turn next year’s primary against U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan into another test of the left wing’s strength within the Democratic party.
Harper, 38, a Stanford-educated attorney who began life in foster care, drew national attention last year for the Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-style sense of urgency she brought to a Democratic congressional race in central Ohio. Then a political newcomer, she presented veteran U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty with her stiffest competition in years, winning almost a third of the vote in Ohio’s young, diverse 3rd Congressional District.
A former senior policy adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Harper backs the Green New Deal, reparations for African-Americans, universal child care and tuition-free public college.
She said “existential threats to our democracy” from the right are motivating her to run, as well as the fact that “our old playbook as Democrats isn’t working in Ohio.”
“We need to have a new fresh voice that is going to be able to mobilize the key constituencies that we need to turn out and vote — Black voters, young people, women — to flip this seat,” she said in an interview. “Our democracy, our climate, our communities cannot afford to lose.”
She seeks the seat held by Republican Rob Portman, who cited the difficulty governing amid divisive national politics in announcing his retirement Jan. 25.
As a reminder of those divisions, participants in the crowded GOP primary to succeed Portman almost universally lambasted Senate passage last week of the $1 trillion infrastructure plan put forward by President Joe Biden, a Democrat, despite Portman’s key role in its bipartisan success.
Ryan, a 10-term congressman from the blue-collar Mahoning Valley who launched his Senate bid in April, praised Portman’s work on the measure, even as the House’s vocal progressive coalition placed conditions on their support.
Harper drew a contrast between herself and Ryan, saying she is a Washington outsider and has consistently favored a woman’s right to an abortion. Ryan, a Catholic, reversed his earlier opposition to abortion rights in 2015, citing his experience as a parent and stories shared by female constituents.
Harper’s announcement for Senate comes as progressives are regrouping following a stinging loss in the Cleveland-area 11th Congressional District.
Centrist Democrat Shontel Brown, a member of Cuyahoga County Council, defeated progressive Nina Turner in the Democratic primary with help from the Democratic party establishment, dashing the left’s hopes of growing their influence in Washington.
Harper characterizes herself as “a proud Democrat,” perhaps drawing a contrast with Turner, whose campaign was hurt by her outspoken attacks on fellow Democrats, including Biden.
“I respect and endorsed Nina Turner, but I also say that this race is very different in a number of ways,” she said. “One thing that we need to look at is there is a track record of progressives winning statewide in Ohio. Sherrod Brown shows that that is possible. We need to be bold and stick to our values.”
The state’s senior senator, the Democratic Brown is routinely ranked among the Senate’s most liberal members. Brown defeated two-term incumbent Mike DeWine, now Ohio’s Republican governor, to win the Senate seat in 2006. He’s won reelection two subsequent times, as Republicans continue to control all other non-judicial offices statewide and majorities on the Ohio Supreme Court and in both chambers of the state Legislature.
Harper said she’s continued to work on grassroots activities since losing the congressional primary, including efforts to get masks and vaccines to disadvantaged communities and organizing transportation to the polls for those who needed it.