By ANDREW MIGA, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Veteran Democratic Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur have been friends for years, but their bruising Ohio primary fight has been anything but friendly.
The Kucinich-Kaptur showdown to be decided on Super Tuesday kicks off 11 primary contests in the coming months that are expected to pit House incumbents against each other due to redistricting in states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and California.
Seven races involve Democrats. Four contests have Republicans squaring off. Such intraparty fights, often forcing longtime colleagues to battle for their political survival, can strain friendships and take some nasty turns.
In New Jersey, the longtime friendship between liberal Democratic Reps. Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell Jr., who have served together for 15 years, has already frayed.
Redistricting threw Rothman into a newly configured GOP-leaning district with conservative Republican Scott Garrett in the northern part of the state. Rothman opted to run against Pascrell in a June 5 primary in Pascrell's newly configured district, which is largely Democratic. Pascrell fumed.
"With friends like this I don't need enemies," Pascrell said of Rothman in a recent telephone interview with The Associated Press. "He's apparently not willing to put his dukes up against Mr. Garrett, so he chose to run against his quote-unquote friend ... I never backed off a fight in my life. He better not be expecting me to walk away from this one."
Districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes in the new census. Whichever party controls a state legislature typically sets redistricting so that incumbents in the majority party are protected and minority party seats are put at risk. Some states, including California, rely on independent or bipartisan panels for redistricting.
Ohio Republicans who redrew the congressional boundaries put Kucinich and Kaptur together in a district running along the Lake Erie shoreline from Cleveland to Toledo that's heavily tilted toward Democrats.
Kucinich, an eight-term congressman known for a quirky style and zest for political combat since becoming Cleveland's "boy mayor" at age 31, is a two-time presidential candidate with a national following among progressives. Last summer, he flirted with running for an open House seat in Washington state, but opted to stay in Ohio.
Kaptur, in her 15th term, is pitching herself as a workhorse able to deliver for Ohio as a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.
"His focus has wandered," Kaptur told the AP in a telephone interview. "He's run for president twice. He promised his constituents the first time he wouldn't run again, but then he did run again ... He doesn't deliver for northern Ohio."
Kaptur, too, has tried to link Kucinich with a former Cuyahoga County commissioner facing bribery and racketeering charges. Kucinich has complained about Kaptur's "character assassination" and "swift-boat" tactics while blasting her in one of his campaign ads for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from defense contractors.
"The tone has turned negative and nastier over the course of the last few days," Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern complained Friday, adding that attack ads from outside groups have added fuel to the fire.
Even lawn signs are fair game. Kucinich complained in a fundraising email that "an aggressive, illegal sign removal operation is being run by the other campaign."
In neighboring Pennsylvania, there's a testy tone between Democratic Reps. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz, a former aide to the late Rep. John Murtha, for the April 24 primary.
The former allies now are fighting for a redrawn district in the southwestern part of the state due to GOP-led redistricting. Altmire branded as "despicable" Critz's recent challenge to his nominating petitions to try to knock Altmire off the ballot. Critz has hit Altmire for appearing on Fox News Channel programs.
In other primaries:
— Illinois Republican Reps. Don Manzullo, elected in 1992, and freshman Adam Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot who won his seat with strong tea party backing and Sarah Palin's support, are squabbling over who has the strongest conservative credentials. The Illinois Tea Party endorsed Manzullo for the March 20 primary.