By Steve Miller
SANDUSKY, Ohio — Talk about earmarks, war funding and political contributions have been front and center between the Democratic primary candidates for Ohio's 9th Congressional District in the final hours leading up to the primary election.
“I’d like you to give back the money you got from war contractors,” Kucinich said near the end of a 90-minute debate last week.
It was a strong point for Kucinich, who put on a deft display of informed discourse. He no doubt was aware that Kaptur sponsored earmarks for Ares Inc. worth $4.8 million between 2008 and 2010.
“Earmarks are a thing of the past, and the reason they are a thing of the past is because they are just tied into all kinds of corruption,” Kucinich said during the debate. The primary is Tuesday. “I mean people would get earmarks for special interest groups and then they get campaign contributions from the individuals they give earmarks to. Imagine that.”
Kaptur received three contributions from Ares President Herb Roder between 2006 and 2008 worth $1,250.
Kaptur also took a hit last week when a super PAC took her to task for being delinquent on her Ohio property taxes.
This latest debate was one in a string of meetings as Kucinich and Kaptur, along with 29-year-old entrepreneur Graham Veysey, vie to represent the newly created 9th district.
The district was redrawn by a Republican majority Legislature to create a sure loser. Both Kucinich and Kaptur are career politicians with a combined 42 years in Washington, D.C. And only one will be standing after the primary.
Last week's event was held before a crowd of around 400 in a ballroom at the Sandusky campus of Bowling Green State University.
The audience was Kaptur’s at the beginning, a more moneyed group close to her home base of Toledo in an area that was her original constituency before the redistricting threw Kucinich into the mix. She sat on the dais before the event chatting with friends and looking relaxed, as opposed to the previous night in Lorain — a less wealthy town that was also part of her former district — when Kaptur appeared terse in a forum at a community center.
The earmarks also are part of a TV broadcast spot Kucinich came up with in which, without naming Ares, he ties Kaptur to weapons makers.
Overall, between 2008 and 2010, Kaptur sponsored 121 earmarks for $140 million, while Kucinich had 12 for $3.5 million, according to the public interest group Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks earmarks.
The candidates’ barbs on campaign finance showed a glaring difference between Kucinich, who receives more than 90 percent of his money from individual contributors, and Kaptur, who gets more than 90 percent of hers from business interests.
Veysey, whose bright comments and enlightened stances drew smiles from both his colleagues and the crowd, turned to Kaptur during another heated discussion on funding and asked, “would you renounce the PACs and lobbyists who have contributed to your campaign?”
“Every single contribution that we receive has been registered with the Federal Election Commission,” she said. “It is legal. It is overseen by that commission and we follow all of the rules.”
Kucinich also pounded his anti-war stance while he hounded Kaptur for her votes to fund the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And then she went on the offensive.
“Congressman Kucinich and I have the same voting record on war,” she said. “We both voted not to go into Iraq … the difference is I supported the troops once our nation committed them.”
Kucinich fired back.
“We may have both voted against the war in Iraq. I actually led the effort among Democrats not to go to war,” Kucinich said. “But once the way started, Congress alone has the power to end the war with the power of the purse. I voted against each and every appropriation during the Bush administration to make sure that we stop the war. My friend from Toledo voted for it. She said she was against the war but she voted to keep it going. If you’re for the troops you don’t leave them out there in a field in a war that’s based on a lie. You bring them home.”
Veysey, who referred to Kaptur as “Congresswoman Status” and Kucinich as “Congressman Quo,” stayed out of the war discussion and hammered a local angle. He told the crowd that voting for either of the seasoned political pros would be a step in the wrong direction.
“In Ms. Kaptur’s Toledo, the number one rise in poverty in America. In Mr. Kucinich’s Cleveland, the number 2 in terms of big cities for the rate of poverty.”
Kucinich closed the evening by addressing the younger people in the audience, encouraging them to stay involved in the political process, saying “I started at your age and I can show you how it’s done.”
Kaptur ended by promising that she was the “jobs Democrat for today and tomorrow."
Veysey ended the evening with his own unique and enviable position, aware of the 9 percent approval rating the Beltway gets in polls.
“March 6 is a referendum on Congress,” he said. “You can choose the past of you can chose the future.”
Steve Miller covers congressional campaigns for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.