Progressive challenger seeks to unseat Ohio congresswoman

By JULIE CARR SMYTH Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Four-term U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, a Democrat in a reliably blue central Ohio district, is facing one of her stiffest challenges Tuesday, from a political newcomer positioned at the party’s far left.

Democrat Morgan Harper, 36, has brought a sense of urgency to her primary campaign similar to the one that propelled New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to her surprise upset of a House incumbent two years ago.

A Stanford-educated attorney whose life began in foster care, Harper backs the Green New Deal, reparations for African Americans, universal child care and tuition-free public college. She criticizes Beatty for not supporting bold enough changes in federal policy.

Beatty, 70, a former state lawmaker, professor and university vice president, says she’s glad not to be running “on a socialist Justice Democrat ticket” like she says Harper is. Still, Beatty shares some liberal policy positions with her opponent, including supporting abortion rights, diversity and inclusion, and Medicare for All. Justice Democrats, the organization that recruited Ocasio-Cortez, actually endorsed Beatty over Harper last summer.

The race echoes the left-versus-far left dynamic that is dividing Democrats nationally, including those deciding between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, in Tuesday’s presidential primary.

Beatty is vastly outspending Harper, as well as relying on her record and her deep roots in Columbus and state Democratic politics to give her the edge. She won the endorsement of the Franklin County Democratic Party, after Harper refused to participate in the interview process and urged her fellow Democrats not to take sides.

Another sign Beatty’s campaign may have the upper hand: Richard Cordray, the Democrats’ 2016 nominee for Ohio governor, endorsed her over Harper, though Harper was a senior policy adviser at the Consumer Financial Protection Board when he was director.

Such backing from an establishment Democrat is potentially of little consequence among Harper’s young, diverse core of supporters. She has campaigned hard for the youth vote at Ohio State University, the 66,000-student public university located in the district, and on social media.

Harper raised concerns earlier this week over how the coronavirus might affect the college vote, however.

Ohio State has suspended all face-to-face instruction through the end of the semester, a decision announced while students were on spring break. The timing could discourage them from returning to campus for Election Day, Harper said. She has urged the state’s elections chief to extend Monday’s deadline for turning in those ballots to assure adequate time to vote safely. Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose currently has no plans to change that deadline.

Beatty’s campaign also has been affected. She canceled a Souls to the Polls get-out-the-vote event Sunday as a precaution against the virus, and the governor has since prohibited most mass gatherings — such as campaign rallies — of more than 100 people. State Democrats also postponed a big fundraising dinner scheduled for that night, which was to feature U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III.

The Democrat who prevails in Tuesday’s primary is almost certain to win the general election this fall, given the district skews more than 60% in the party’s favor.

The victor will face the winner of a Republican primary between Cleophus Dulaney, a Columbus business owner, and Mark F. Richardson, an entrepreneur, banker and U.S. Navy veteran.