It was the unluck of the draw that led two of Ohio’s top Democratic U.S. reps into an internecine battle.
The state’s flagging economy led to a decrease in population, which resulted in the redrawing of congressional districts by a Republican-dominated legislature. And as a result, former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and regional favorite Marcy Kaptur are squaring off in a primary that will derail, at least temporarily, one of their political careers.
Kaptur has 29 years in the House; Kucinich has 15. They, along with 29-year-old businessman Graham Veysey, are vying to represent the 9th District, which stretches over 120 miles of Lake Erie shore, from Toledo to the eastern suburbs of Cleveland. The primary is March 6. With its dominant Democratic base, the primary is widely believed to be a de facto final selection.
“These are two candidates with very different styles,” said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. “Marcy Kaptur has risen through the ranks to this prominent position, and Dennis Kucinich has elevated himself through his presidential aspirations and his national profile.”
Money isn't going to drive this race, as both have healthy campaign coffers. Kucinich slightly outraised Kaptur in the last quarter of last year.
In terms of congressional efficacy, both candidates are batting zero in the number of sponsored bills that have become law this session, with Kucinich 0 for 12 and Kaptur 0 for 24. Among Kucinich's bills was an amendment to public funds to pay for federal elections.
Kaptur introduced a measure that would waive the First Amendment regarding political speech of "any corporation, partnership, business trust, association, or other business organization with respect to the making of contributions, expenditures, or other disbursements of funds in connection with public elections."
The telling statistic, though, is the origin of each candidate’s funds. Kucinich has received 94 percent of his war chest from individuals, while Kaptur has received just 23 percent from individuals and the rest from PACs or other political machinery, according to an OpenSecrets tally.
Kucinich has pressed hard recently on the need to rebuild an inner bridge in Cleveland, even mentioning it to President Obama at the State of the Union address last month. Kucinich, long an advocate of unions, was also in possession of a $2,000 campaign donation from the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers that he reported on Dec. 21.
His personal donations have come mostly from outside Ohio. Among those donors: Actress Deidre Hall, who played a doctor on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” for almost three decades, and Tim Aller, road manager for the Robert Cray Band. Willie Nelson and author Gore Vidal have both helped raise funds for Kucinich, giving him a bit of star power in the mostly blue-collar district.
Kaptur has received $3,500 from the National Air Traffic Controllers Association PAC, a friendly nod that may have come in part to her 2006 vote to approve a union for air traffic controllers.
She received campaign donations from the PMA Group, which was shut down in 2009 amidst an FBI investigation. PMA, which lobbied for military defense earmarks, and its chief, Paul Magliocchetti, gave Kaptur $17,000 in the 2008 election.
She also voted for earmarks for Teledyne Technologies, an annual donor and international with facilities in the Toledo area, according to a database compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Beltway watchdog group.
Kucinich and Kaptur, while being part of the same party, have voted with some wide differences over the years.
Kucinich voted against more money for Mexico to fight drugs, while Kaptur voted for it.
Kucinich voted against more money for nanotechnology research and development while Kaptur voted for it.
Kucinich voted no on a bill for more prosecution and sentencing for juvenile crime, while Kaptur voted yes.
And while Kucinich has a 100 percent rating from the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, Kaptur is rated at 30 percent.
Both ethnic Catholics, Kucinich had for years been a strong pro-life vote. He changed his view in 2003 while Kaptur has held fast to hers, in keeping with her generally more moderate stance on social issues.
“Both of them started in the same place,” said Green, from the University of Akron. “But Marcy Kaptur has the more conservative social policies, and Dennis Kucinich has been more about foreign policy and his own social policies.
"These differences will come out during the primary campaign.”
And after that, voters will decide if they want a rabble rouser, as Tom Sutton, associate professor of political science at Baldwin-Wallace College called Kucinich, or a representative more inclined to reconcile differences in Kaptor.
"Kucinich is seen as a fighter for the common man," Sutton added. "Kaptor is better at building coalitions."
There are only a couple of weeks for those differences to be absorbed by voters, who live in a place of relative political rancor.
The state is still reeling from November’s divisive election in which voters repealed a law limiting collective bargaining rights. Big labor poured a reported $30 million into the battle to turn back the law.
The leader of that labor effort was a grassroots group called We Are Ohio. Records show that the same person who registered the group, Mark McGinnis, also registered the company heading Kucinich’s 2008 presidential election bid.
Neither the Kaptur nor the Kucinich campaign responded to queries.
Until recently, the two candidates had steered clear of head-to-head conversation, but last week they met for an hour-long cable sit down in Cleveland. Kaptur went after Kucinich on the bridge, asking him where the funding would come from.
Kucinich, in turn, attacked Kaptur for her votes in favor of funding the war in Iraq.
"The gentlelady from Toledo has consistently voted to fund the war in Iraq," Kucinich was reported by the Plain Dealer as saying. Kaptur voted against sending troops to Iraq in 2002 but co-sponsored legislation that would provide more funding to forces on the ground.
The two are scheduled to face off twice this week, first at a Wednesday gathering of a local Hispanic group, then on Thursday in a forum sponsored by the Sandusky Register.
Steve Miller covers congressional campaigns for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.