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Old friends are now bitter rivals for Ohio House seat

GOP-authored redistricting pits 2 Democrats

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The Republican presidential brawl will not be the only fight on the ballot when voters in the swing state of Ohio head to the polls on Super Tuesday.

As the nation's political spotlight shines on the state, time is running out on the political careers of one of two veteran Democratic members of Congress, who have turned up the volume in their primary fight after a GOP-designed redistricting left them fighting for the same seat.

As one headline touts "friendship on the ropes," the two congressional colleagues — Reps. Dennis J. Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur — are now opening up more heated exchanges about their records, including support for the Iraq War, to appeal to voters in the newly drawn 9th District where redistricting will soon end one decades-long political career.

"Sadly, but not surprisingly, these two political veterans are doing what they need to do to win this primary. You go negative because it tends to get your partisans to vote for you and drives moderates and independents out," said Tom Sutton, chairman of the political science department at Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea, Ohio.

"For Democrats in Ohio, this is the only race in town. That makes it especially interesting," he said. "And I think this one is still way too close to call."

No recent poll numbers lend a clue to who's on top. The electorate numbers favor Ms. Kaptur, who has about 90,000 more voters from her previous district than Mr. Kucinich does in the newly drawn district, Mr. Sutton said. But when looking at registered Democrats now in the new district, the candidates remain about even, making prognosticating a problem for pundits and political watchers, some of whom bemoan the loss of either of these veterans who have served a total of 42 years in Congress.

"She has standing [in Congress]. She's very well-loved in her district," Mr. Sutton said of Ms. Kaptur.

"Kucinich has this image of being more of a lone wolf, someone who has been on the picket lines, in public protests fighting for workers," along with more of a national name because of his two presidential runs, he said.

In recent weeks, however, the campaign's tone has soured. Mr. Kucinich's camp has sniped that his campaign signs have been stolen, while Ms. Kaptur has attempted to link her opponent to a former Cuyahoga County commissioner who is on trial on federal corruption charges. A television ad funded by a super PAC also questions Ms. Kaptur's ownership of a Washington, D.C., condo.

"It's gone from two old friends running against one another because they don't have a choice, to a level of political negativity that has been sharp," Mr. Sutton said. "A lot of it is two candidates trying to distinguish themselves from one another. I think it's a style that people will be voting on."

Ohio, with its Republican governor, Republican-led General Assembly and a spate of ballot initiatives last fall that energized voters, remains battleground territory in the presidential election. But whether that enthusiasm transfers to races moving ahead remains unclear, said Paul Beck, a professor of political science at Ohio State University.

"I think there is a lot of anger among Democrats, certainly with union Democrats, and a feeling that there's no place to voice that anger in the primary," he said. "But in the general election, they will turn out to vote against Republicans."

He doubts that President Obama will have the support he did in 2008, and said the Buckeye State will return as a real battleground for presidential contenders come November.

"Six months ago, I would have said Obama was going to have trouble winning Ohio, but I think that has changed," Mr. Beck said. "I think he has the momentum in Ohio. I think [Mitt] Romney would be the strongest nominee against Obama here and [Rick] Santorum would not do well."

Money continues to pour into Ohio for the U.S. Senate race that pits veteran incumbent Sherrod Brown, the Democrat, against Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, the Republican.

"I think this is going to be a very negative campaign," Mr. Beck predicts of the Senate contest, which he said also will be well-financed. "I think it's going to be a very hotly contested race that is probably going to turn in the end on how well Obama does in Ohio."

Mr. Beck said Mr. Mandel has spent a lot of money attacking Mr. Brown as a liberal who is out of step with Ohio, while Mr. Brown has noted that Mr. Mandel has served only one year of his term as state treasurer, suggesting that he is too politically ambitious.

"I think Sherrod Brown is going to win this race," Mr. Beck said. "Sherrod Brown has been around for a while. He also has been able to position himself as a candidate who sticks up for common people in Ohio in a way Mandel is going to have a hard time demonstrating."

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