They have served a combined 46 years in the House of Representatives, ethnic Catholic liberals born four months apart representing districts along their state’s northern border.
But now, redistricting in Ohio, drawn up by a Republican-led General Assembly, has left two powerhouse liberal Democrats, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, battling for one seat in the state’s redrawn 9th District.
The district covers a narrow, 100-mile slice of Lake Erie shoreline from Cleveland’s blue-collar suburbs to Toledo.
With time ticking toward the March 6 Democratic primary, the congressional veterans are in the political fight of their lives. Their race is among the most notable between incumbents in the wake of the 2010 census, which reflected population shifts and resulted in redistricting that has scrambled familiar political patterns across the country.
The thought of losing Mr. Kucinich, a quirky and charismatic former Cleveland mayor, or Ms. Kaptur, a onetime city planner and the House’s longest-serving female member, is a tough outcome for many Buckeye State Democrats.
Party leaders blame the GOP for targeting what they describe as two “progressive champions” in Washington.
“The Republicans in the Statehouse went to great lengths to draw a gerrymandered district and eliminate one of these fine public servants from office,” said Seth Bringman, communications director for the Ohio Democratic Party. “It’s a disservice to the citizens of Ohio.”
The candidates’ voting records are similar: Both are skeptical of free trade, are pro-union, and strongly support President Obama’s stimulus and health care programs.
Political observers say the redrawn district favors Ms. Kaptur, who has retained a greater percentage of her voting base in the northwest Ohio district.
Mr. Kucinich, who waged two unsuccessful bids for the presidency and who has been endorsed by Hollywood celebrities, faces the challenge of introducing himself to large numbers of Kaptur constituents. He retains a base of support from Cuyahoga County Democrats and has won the endorsement of such prominent liberals as retiring Rep. Barney Frank, Massachusetts Democrat.
Adding to the spectacle is one potential Republican candidate for the general election: Samuel Joe “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher, who found fame during the 2008 presidential campaign when he confronted candidate Barack Obama about taxes on small businesses.
Also in the race are Republican Steve Kraus and Democrat Graham Veysey, a Cleveland businessman who lacks the funds and name recognition of his two older rivals, but has already garnered attention beyond his district with a low-budget ad parodying the movie “Dumb and Dumber” to tout his long-shot candidacy. Republicans are given little chance, though, in a district expressly designed by state GOP leaders to confine as many Democrats as possible.