Kucinich's Star Factor Not Enough in Ohio

With a win over Kucinich, Kaptur cements her status as a Capitol Hill heavyweight.

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Dennis Kucinich is a celebrity on the left—but that wasn't enough to save his Congressional seat.

The Cleveland-area representative was walloped in a bitter primary battle Tuesday with fellow Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who has represented the Toledo area since 1983. The two long-time representatives, both national symbols for their party, were forced to run against each other through redistricting in one of the most high-profile "member versus member" races in the country. Kaptur beat Kucinich, 60 percent to 36 percent.

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Ultimately, it was Kaptur's stature and workmanlike service to the district which won over voters of the newly redrawn ninth District, which snakes uneasily across Lake Erie from Cleveland to Toledo. While Kucinich's high-profile status—he ran for president twice, in 2004 and 2008—earned him support from Democrats across the country, it didn't help his chances at home.

And with a surprisingly strong re-election victory under her belt, Kaptur has cemented herself as one of the heavy hitters on Capitol Hill.

She is the longest-serving woman in the House of Representatives, and after Washington Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks retires this year, she will likely be the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee—one of the most coveted seats in D.C.

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"She's one of those members of Congress who doesn't get a lot of publicity, and doesn't want a lot of publicity," says David Cohen, a professor of political science at the University of Akron. "She really has the respect and love of all of the Democratic voters in that area."

Kaptur will face yet another political celebrity in the fall—Samuel Wurzelbacher, or, as he'll always be remembered from the 2008 presidential campaign, "Joe the Plumber." Wurzelbacher became an unlikely public figure after getting into an argument with Barack Obama, then the Democratic presidential nominee, over tax policy. Kaptur is strongly favored in the heavily Democratic district.

Kucinich and Kaptur are both outspoken liberals with strong ties to organized labor, but their styles couldn't be more different. Kucinich became mayor of Cleveland when he was 31, and after a tumultuous two-year reign, he spent years in California, befriending movie stars such as Shirley MacLaine. After returning to Cleveland to represent the western side of the city, Kucinich raised his national profile, not only with his presidential campaigns, but also with legislative pushes such as a drive to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney.

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Kaptur, who has represented the Toledo area for nearly three decades, marketed herself as a workhorse legislator, able to use her stature in Congress to benefit the district. And ultimately, her stature paid off—outside of Kucinich's backyard in Cleveland, local party leaders mostly went to bat for Kaptur, helping to deliver crucial votes.

"I figured it would be a half-and-half kind of thing," says one Democratic operative from Lorain County, an industrial area in the middle of the district. "The political leaders and elected Democrats in the community came out overwhelmingly for Marcy, and worked very, very hard to make sure that she won here."


Twitter: @AlexParkerDC