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Nina Turner on Race, Gender, and Money In Politics

The significance that money in politics has in the candidacy of women and people of color is perhaps no more evident than in the 2014 campaign of Nina Turner for Ohio Secretary of State.

It’s not often that statewide candidates can garner national headlines the way Turner, a black woman, did during her race. She had been an experienced legislator and a strong voice against voter suppression in one of the nation’s most influential states. Turner had the backing of unions and other groups on the grassroots level, and was even a popular guest on cable news shows. 

She seemed poised to trounce her opponent. What he had that she didn’t, though, was money. Lots and lots of it. Republican incumbent Jon Husted beat Turner with a reported 60 percent of the vote. Throughout the race, he raised three times as much money as she did, spending more on media buys than Turner raised throughout her campaign.

Today, Turner is engagement chair for the Ohio Democratic Party. She spoke with Demos to detail her campaign’s fundraising journey and tackled the outsized role that money has in who runs for office, who wins elections and the policies that result.

How would you describe your fundraising journey?

Intense and complicated. I want to start with complicated first…there are some misnomers about African American candidates. One, the fallacy that we can only win if the district is majority, a person of color. That’s number one. And two, that we don’t need to raise money. And it is the combination of those two things that make us less competitive, should we decide to run for higher offices.

The other part of it is having mentorship when you enter elected office on that level, and having people say to you that, “No matter if you’re running for dogcatcher, you have to raise money. You have to practice that.” It’s training for a marathon, you have to use it. I think African American candidates don’t necessarily get the benefit of that.

Stacked Deck: How the Bias in Our Big Money Political System Undermines Racial Equity for more on the barriers to running for office as a candidate of color and how a system of public financing could help." the_image="{"filename":"figureone-1436898923-26.png","focal_point":{"x":50,"y":50},"progress":0,"path":"/data/files/organization/11326/image/raw/figureone-1436898923-26.png","temp_path":null}">

Also complicated in that the person I was running against... he was the former speaker of the house. So, he was able to leverage relationships that he had long before I got there. So, he started off with hundreds of thousands of dollars, more than I had when I started running.

Read the full interview with Nina Turner on Demos Longform.