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Government and Politics


Ohio Democrats Kucinich and Kaptur getting feel for redrawn district
Primary campaign means meeting new voters from Toledo to Cleveland


 
Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur at a Northeast Ohio event featuring Vice President Joe Biden last fall.
Courtesy of Kevin Niedermier
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In The Region:

Congressional redistricting has created a long, narrow district that snakes along Lake Erie from Toledo to Cleveland.  The new 9th District pits longtime Democrats Marcy Kaptur of Toledo and Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland against each other in the March primary. WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports on how the candidates are selling themselves to voters on opposite sides of the state.

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For 28 years, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur has represented a district that centered on Toledo and eventually stretched east to Lorain. Since 1997, Congressman Dennis Kucinich has held the seat that included most of western and southern Cuyahoga County. When Republican state legislators redrew the congressional lines late last year, both Kaptur and Kucinich lost parts of their old districts.

The new 9th District’s borders were adjusted a few times, and the final version gave Kaptur the most territory, including northern portions of Lucas, Ottawa, Erie and Lorain counties. Kucinich is new to all these areas, while Kaptur’s new to some Lorain County voters, and to all of Cuyahoga County’s new 9th District’s residents. Kaptur has wasted no time getting acquainted with Cuyahoga’s voters in the district.

Over cookies and coffee at a Bay Village community center, Kaptur held a “meet and greet” with potential new constituents. She has a reputation as a dependable Democratic vote, and a pragmatic lawmaker who has brought loads of federal dollars back to her old district.  Kucinich has staked his reputation as a maverick that has made two quixotic runs for president. He is liberal on social issues, a war critic, and a champion of the working class.

Moving the community forward

Conflicted, is a good way to describe most of the 30 or so people that attended the Kaptur event.  Former Bay Village Democratic Club Chairman George Ryan summed up his reasons for shifting support to Kaptur. He believes that although Kucinich has done a great job, Marcy is the candidate that realizes what it takes to move forward, not just as a community but as a country.

Many former Kucinich supporters also said the congressman’s long-shot runs for president took too much time away from the business of running his old 10th District. Between shaking hands and chatting with the small group in Bay Village, Kaptur described why they should vote for her.

“There are 5 counties now in the 9th District,” said Kaptur. “I believe I know more about the entire region than my opponent does, and I have depth in serving those communities . . .  whether it’s creating a new Ottawa National Wildlife Visitors Center to attract tourists along the coast, or whether it’s redoing the energy system in Oberlin in Lorain County.”

According to her campaign, Kaptur has held dozens of events and meetings with business people in Cuyahoga County so far. Kucinich has had some star power in his campaign. Country music star Willie Nelson came to Lorain County to perform and raise money for Kucinich. During a press conference before the concert, the congressman talked about their friendship. Kucinich has been a longtime friend to Nelson as well as the farmers and was always willing to help regarding their interests.

Low key and unfamiliar

In the Toledo area, Kucinich has run a low-key campaign. Last Friday he surprised attendees at a Hispanic social club event in Toledo.  Also that day, he showed up at Cooper Tire in Findlay, which is outside the new 9th District, to meet with factory workers shut out in a labor dispute.

At Brisket’s Diner in the Toledo suburb of Oregon, Kaptur supporter Pete Shaffer resents how Republicans redrew the congressional lines. And he has little knowledge of Kaptur’s opponent from Cleveland. In fact, Shaffer knows more Republican challenger for the 9th District, Sam “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher. Mistaking Kucinich for a Republican, Shaffer expressed his disapproval of Joe the Plumber and his support for Marcy.

Unconventional campaign strategy

Tom Troy of the Toledo Blade is covering the Kaptur/Kucinich race. He recalled only a handful of Kucinich appearances in the Toledo area since the campaign started. They included a protest over license renewal at the Davis Bessie nuclear power plant, a Martin Luther King Day celebration at the University of Toledo, and a rally by Hispanic residents, where he cited his support for the Dream Act. Troy called Kucinich’s campaign strategy in Toledo un-conventional.

“I don’t see a campaign staff, I don’t see campaign events,” said Troy. “Dennis Kucinich makes himself available to the media, you can call him up and he’ll tell you what he’s doing and what his plans are. He doesn’t seem to have a campaign staff or a schedule of campaign events.… It’s raised the question in my mind whether he’s really serious about the race…”

A few yard signs posted outside the Lucas County Board of Elections site where early voting started last week are the only indication in Toledo that Kucinich is running. George Davis Jr. has just cast his ballot. Despite his knowledge of Kucinich, he said Kaptur is his town’s candidate—she comes from a working class family and is a down to earth person.

Mathematical advantage

While it is unlikely Congressman Kucinich will garner many votes in the Greater Toledo area, he has been a strong vote getter in the Cleveland area, even with his presidential runs, efforts to establish a Department of Peace, and attempts to impeach President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Democratic political consultant Jerry Austin believed the race between Kucinich and Kaptur will be won or lost elsewhere.

“I think what you may find, said Austin, “is that this race is decided in those counties between Lucas and Cuyahoga, especially in the areas where neither has represented most of the areas which is basically Lorain County. Kaptur had a piece of it, Dennis has never been there.”

Austin noted that the new 9th District’s boundaries give Kaptur the mathematical advantage with 100,000 more constituents, but he said he has learned never to underestimate Kucinich. Kaptur has received endorsements from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and former Republican Senator George Voinovich. Kucinich has the backing of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party and Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

Political newcomer Graham Veysey is a wild-card in the primary. The 29-year-old Cleveland area entrepreneur is running a low cost campaign that Austin said will probably take some Cleveland votes away from Kucinich.
-- Web story by Matt Meduri 

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