By Steve Miller
Two of Ohio’s top Democratic U.S. representatives — Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur — find themselves in a primary that will derail, at least temporarily, one of their political careers.
The primary is March 6.
Because of the state’s flagging economy, the population fell and congressional districts were redrawn, a process led by state Republicans.
Kaptur, a regional favorite, has 29 years in the House; Kucinich, the former presidential candidate, has 15. They, along with 29-year-old businessman Graham Veysey, are vying to represent the 9th District, which stretches over 120 miles of Lake Erie shore, from Toledo to the eastern suburbs of Cleveland.
The primary is widely believed to be a de facto final selection, because of its dominant Democratic base.
“These are two candidates with very different styles,” said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. “Marcy Kaptur has risen through the ranks to this prominent position, and Dennis Kucinich has elevated himself through his presidential aspirations and his national profile.”
In terms of congressional efficacy, both candidates are batting zero in the number of sponsored bills that have become law this session —Kucinich is 0 for 12; Kaptur is 0 for 24.
Among Kucinich's bills was an amendment to public money to pay for federal elections. Kaptur introduced a measure that would waive the First Amendment regarding political speech of "any corporation, partnership, business trust, association, or other business organization with respect to the making of contributions, expenditures, or other disbursements of funds in connection with public elections."
The telling statistic, though, is the origin of each candidate’s funds.
Kucinich has received 94 percent of his war chest from individuals. Kaptur has received 23 percent from individuals and the rest from PACs or other political organizations, according to an OpenSecrets tally.
Kucinich has pressed hard recently for the need to rebuild an inner bridge in Cleveland, even mentioning it to President Obama at the State of the Union address last month. Kucinich, long an advocate of unions, was also in possession of a $2,000 campaign donation from the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers that he reported on Dec. 21.
His personal donations have come mostly from outside Ohio. Among those donors: Actress Deidre Hall, who played a doctor on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” for almost three decades, and Tim Aller, road manager for the Robert Cray Band. Willie Nelson and author Gore Vidal have both helped raise funds for Kucinich, giving him a bit of star power in the mostly blue-collar district.
Kaptur has received $3,500 from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association PAC, a friendly nod that may have come in part to her 2006 vote to approve a union for air traffic controllers.
She received campaign donations from the PMA Group, which was shut down in 2009 amidst an FBI investigation. PMA, which lobbied for military defense earmarks, and its chief, Paul Magliocchetti, gave Kaptur $17,000 in the 2008 election.
She also voted for earmarks for Teledyne Technologies, an annual donor with facilities in the Toledo area, according to a database compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Beltway watchdog group.
Kucinich and Kaptur, while being part of the same party, have often voted differently over the years.
Kucinich voted against more money for Mexico to fight drugs, while Kaptur voted for it.
Kucinich voted against more money for nanotechnology research and development; Kaptur voted for it.
Kucinich voted no on a bill for more prosecution and sentencing for juvenile crime, and Kaptur voted yes.
And while Kucinich has a 100 percent rating from the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, Kaptur is rated at 30 percent.
Both Catholics, Kucinich had for years been a strong pro-life vote. He changed his view in 2003 while Kaptur has held fast to hers, in keeping with her generally more moderate stance on social issues.
See a comparison of the two on issues here.
“Both of them started in the same place,” said Green, from the University of Akron. “But Marcy Kaptur has the more conservative social policies, and Dennis Kucinich has been more about foreign policy and his own social policies.
"These differences will come out during the primary campaign.”
After that, voters will decide if they want a rabble rouser, as Tom Sutton, associate professor of political science at Baldwin-Wallace College called Kucinich, or a representative more inclined to reconcile differences in Kaptur.
"Kucinich is seen as a fighter for the common man," Sutton said. "Kaptur is better at building coalitions."
There are only a couple of weeks for those differences to be absorbed by voters.
The state is still reeling from November’s divisive election in which voters repealed a law limiting collective bargaining rights. Big labor poured a reported $30 million into the battle to turn back the law.
The leader of that labor effort was a grassroots group called We Are Ohio. Records show that the same person who registered the group, Mark McGinnis, also registered the company heading Kucinich’s 2008 presidential election bid.
Neither the Kaptur nor the Kucinich campaign responded to queries.
Until recently, the two candidates had steered clear of head-to-head conversation, but last week they met for an hour-long sit down in Cleveland. Kaptur went after Kucinich on the bridge, asking him where the funding would come from.
Kucinich, in turn, attacked Kaptur for her votes in favor of funding the war in Iraq.
"The gentlelady from Toledo has consistently voted to fund the war in Iraq," Kucinich said, as reported by the Plain Dealer. Kaptur voted against sending troops to Iraq in 2002 but co-sponsored legislation that would provide more funding to forces on the ground.