- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

In a bitter battle of liberal Democratic heavyweights, Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur prevailed over longtime friend and fellow incumbent Rep. Dennis Kucinich in Tuesday’s primary in their newly drawn and combined congressional district.

Ms. Kaptur will face off against another nationally known figure in the general election, as political novice Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as “Joe the Plumber,” who confronted then-candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race, won the Republican primary over Steven Krause, an auctioneer from Huron.

The much-watched race drew national attention as the two congressional veterans were forced by redistricting to fight for their political lives. The race was not determined until the early hours of Wednesday morning.

State Treasurer Josh Mandel, a Republican, easily won his U.S. Senate primary bid to face Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown in November, but another GOP incumbent, Rep. Jean Schmidt, lost a stunning upset to Army Reserves Maj. Brad Wenstrup, a political novice, in her Cincinnati district.

The bruising Kaptur-Kucinich battle for the new district along Lake Erie was the first and one of the most intriguing of some 13 House contests pitting incumbents against incumbents as a result of redistricting after the 2010 census.

In seven districts, two sitting Democrats will be running against each other, while four primaries will pit Republican incumbents. Two general-election races, in Ohio and Iowa, will feature a sitting Republican and sitting Democrat running in the same redrawn district.

Ms. Kaptur should be favored in a heavily Democratic district, but it was clear from Mr. Kucinich’s concession speech shortly after midnight that the party has some healing to do. An angry Mr. Kucinich described his opponent’s campaign as “lacking in integrity, filled with false truths.”

“I hope this is not a representation of how she’ll run the district,” he said.

Ms. Kaptur did not respond to Mr. Kucinich’s criticism but said in a statement said she will need his supporters, and those of another primary contender, Graham Veysey, in the fall.

“We will need them, and their supporters help to work for the betterment of all of northern Ohio,” she said.
Because of the nature of the race and the two candidates, the Democratic primary attracted interest far beyond the state.

Earlier in the day, celebrities tweeted support for Mr. Kucinich.

“We cannot lose him,” music impresario Russell Simmons said.

“We need you,” added actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr.

Mr. Kucinich also received support from NARAL Pro-Choice America, which tweeted that he was the only pro-choice candidate in the race.

Speculation raged on Twitter about whether Mr. Kucinich might make a run as a Green Party candidate for president or mount a campaign run in Washington state if he lost his District 9 seat in Ohio.

The Kaptur-Kucinich contest upset many in Ohio’s Democratic hierarchy, pitting two well-known and experienced liberal lawmakers against each other, thus guaranteeing that one will not be returning to Washington. The state lost two seats in redistricting, with the GOP-drafted map putting the two incumbents in the same new district.

Ms. Kaptur, 65, joined the House of Representatives in 1983, six years after Mr. Kucinich was first elected.

Both drew on famous friends for endorsements, with actor Tom Hanks and former GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole endorsing Ms. Kaptur, while country music icon Willie Nelson was one of a number of celebrities taking to the road to raise money for Mr. Kucinich.

Although the two lawmakers have been friends, in recent weeks the election turned increasingly nasty, with sparring about voting records, the war in Iraq and jobs.

Mr. Kucinich, whose former district encapsulated much of Cleveland, has a storied history there. He was dubbed the “boy mayor” after taking office at age 31. During his time in Washington, he has raised his profile as an outspoken progressive and two-time presidential candidate with Hollywood friends and a national image.

The more low-key Ms. Kaptur has touted herself as a leader deeply engaged in her district with clout as one of the senior Democrats on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. She argued while campaigning that Mr. Kucinich’s “focus has wandered,” and she ran ads attempting to link him with a former Cuyahoga County commissioner on trial on federal racketeering charges.

Mr. Kucinich dubbed her ads as “Swift-boating” tactics, as each side sought to play up differences in personal style, given their similar voting records.

Ms. Kaptur had a base in her old district in Toledo, while Mr. Kucinich ran stronger in his native Cleveland. The primary battle centered on swing voters in the center of the new district around the city of Lorain, which was not in either lawmaker’s old district.

The attack advertising was fueled in part by super PAC money from outside the state, highlighting the national attention the race has drawn in a presidential election year.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

• Andrea Billups can be reached at andreabillups@hotmail.com.

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