Lorain, Ohio - U.S. Rep Dennis Kucinich several times accused his congressional colleague and opponent Marcy Kaptur of misrepresenting him during a forum here last week, ratcheting up the contentious factor in the Democratic primary in Ohio’s redrawn 9th district.
The two seasoned politicos have butted heads multiple times during joint appearances. The debate, held in a cozy theater in a social services complex in this town’s small Hispanic community, served again as a place for the two to put each other down in both subtle and confrontational ways.
“My friend from Toledo has never satisfactorily explained…why in the world you voted against the Dream Act,” Kucinich said in an irritated tone, referring to legislation that would grant citizenship to immigrants contingent on a number of education and residency factors. “And maybe tonight we can clarify why you voted against it.”
Kaptur explained that she felt the act was not comprehensive enough. “I sat in many, many meetings, Mr. Kucinich, that you were not part of with [U.S. Rep] James Clyburn (D-SC), one of our most important leaders, along with congressman [Luis] Gutierrez (D-Ill.), talking with them about how you form a coalition that can win and that involves engaging organization from every ethnic group and that exists in this country.”
Her dig – “that you were not part of” – emerges as the fabric of the head-to-head debates that have turned to disputes with 13 days left until the March 6 election, which will serve as the de facto final election in the heavily Democratic district.
Along with immigration, the two, joined with spirited no-chancer candidate Graham Veysey, discussed school funding, light rail, and congressional stalemates during the 30 minute round table.
But Kucinich could not leave Kaptur alone. Kaptur outlined some of her accomplishments for the area, including funding for the dredging of Lake Erie ports, assistance for the auto industry and a regional train.
“Look at the record of who’s been able to produce real results here in the north,” Kaptur said, implying that Kucinich has not produced such results.
Kucinich came back at her.
“I have to say to my friend from Toledo, your continual characterization of me blocking some kind of train deal out of here is absolutely false and I wish you would stop saying that,” Kucinich said.
The two were thrown against each other by some creative redistricting by state Republicans following the loss of two congressional seats.
It has placed Kucinich in a defensive position, especially given that his last two contests in his old districts were relatively close.
In 2008, he received 57 percent of the vote to retain his old seat. In 2010, he squeaked through with 53 percent of the vote.
Nationally, Kucinich is feted continually by progressives, who revere the man who once proposed creating a Department of Peace.
But in the newly drawn district, his national appeal is not as applicable as it was in his old district, which was 99 percent urban, topographically speaking.
The new district is 86 percent urban, and stretches along a 120 miles of Lake Erie coastline.
Simply on the merits of his political profile – former Cleveland mayor and presidential candidate in 2004 and 2008 – Kucinich was initially the primary favorite.
But the relatively provincial makeup of the district has worked in favor of the more political moderate and less flashy Kaptur.
The district winds though small towns that still hold pancake breakfasts, Friday fish frys and spaghetti dinner benefits for ill community members.
Anecdotally speaking, few campaign signs for either Kucinich or Kaptor are sitting in these areas.
A church outside Toledo offered a red, white and blue Kaptor yard sign, while a diner and a tattoo parlor in Sandusky put up yellow Kucinich signs that called him “The people’s congressman,” a description he has used for some time.
There is still the feeling that Kucinich is not pushing as hard as he has in recent years. He has made a number of appearances, but many have been targeted at his base in areas where he is best known, rather than hitting spots in his newly broadened constituency.
Kaptur has taken on Kucinich’s foreign policy practices and she has talked about her seniority and position on two powerful committees, the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on the Budget.
Kucinich has served on the Committee on Education and the Workforce and currently is part of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
He is still confident on the stump, perhaps just a little more reserved. At the end of Wednesday’s event, Kucinich looked at the audience of around 100, mostly older, male and white, and delivered his punch line: “I lead, I act, and I deliver.”
The candidates will meet again Thursday evening at Bowling Green State University’s satellite campus in Sandusky..
Steve Miller covers congressional campaigns for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.