Dem Reps. Kaptur and Kucinich face off in primary under presidential shadow

Ohio Democratic Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich are fighting to end each other’s career Tuesday in a primary contest that has been largely overshadowed by the presidential race.

Little has been made public in the way of polling data, but most Ohio observers told The Hill that Kaptur appears best positioned to win the season’s first redistricting face-off.

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Ohio lost two seats in the redistricting process, and Republican map-drawers in the state drew the two lawmakers into the same district, which runs along Lake Erie and spans between Toledo (Kaptur’s base) and Cleveland (Kucinich’s).

The new district includes most of Kaptur’s old territory; a last-minute change added more Toledo voters to the area, which will likely benefit her.

Kucinich, with two unsuccessful presidential runs under his belt, has positioned himself as the underdog fighting against the establishment.

After he initially toyed with the idea of running in Washington state — a point Kaptur has hammered home in the primary — he opted to face Kaptur, whose 14 terms make her the senior-most member of the House and in line for the top spot on the Appropriations Committee.

The war of words between the candidates has focused primarily on issues of form: whose campaign ads were more dishonest, whose supporters were stealing the other’s campaign signs and whose home sits outside the district.

In a Kaptur radio ad released last week, she ties Kucinich to LeBron James and Art Modell, two Ohio sports figures who left the state to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

“This Tuesday, the choice is yours. Art Modell, LeBron James, Dennis Kucinich and another moving van in Cleveland, or Ohio’s own Marcy Kaptur,” says the narrator in the ad.

But the candidates’ campaigns maintain that although Kucinich and Kaptur have similar voting records and have been closely aligned in the House, there are important policy differences that give Ohio voters a clear choice.

Known as one of the most liberal members of the House, Kucinich has hit Kaptur for voting to continue funding military action in Iraq, while Kucinich voted against it. Kaptur also supports the Keystone XL pipeline as a way to bring jobs to Ohio, while Kucinich has opposed it, arguing it will raise gas prices.

Kucinich also points out that Kaptur, whose social views trend more centrist, opposes abortion rights in most circumstances. Kucinich himself opposed abortion rights, but changed his position in 2003, ahead of his presidential run the next year.

If Kucinich pulls out a win on Tuesday, he has his last-minute vote to support President Obama’s healthcare legislation in part to thank. Kucinich held out until the very end, arguing the bill didn’t go far enough, and would have had a difficult time arguing he’s a team player for Democrats had he stood in its way and not eventually relented.

Kucinich has racked up endorsements from retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., while Kaptur has drawn the support of all the area’s major newspapers, actor Tom Hanks, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.).

“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Kaptur spokesman Matt Klempner. “From everything we’ve seen, our response has been very positive. But the only thing that matters is that people actually get out and vote tomorrow.”

Polls close in Ohio at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.



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