WASHINGTON -- Two veteran, progressive Democratic lawmakers from Ohio are battling each other to stay in Congress in a race that has been largely overlooked amid the Super Tuesday presidential primary contests.
Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich are victims of a congressional redistricting process that combined their seats. Because of the population losses recorded by the 2010 U.S. Census, Ohio lost two congressional districts and the borders of the remaining districts were redrawn. The new map combines the districts of Kaptur, who represents what is currently the 9th district, and Kucinich, who represents the 10th.
Kucinich is the underdog in the race, primarily because the newly created 9th district, drawn up by the state's GOP-controlled legislature, retains more of Kaptur's former territory than Kucinich's. Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern recently said Kaptur "has an edge" in the election.
When asked about those projections, Kucinich spokesman Andy Juniewicz seemed nonplussed. "Pundits talk to each other. I'm not actually sure that they're plugged into the people who vote," he said.
Kucinich is known as one of the most outspoken progressives in Congress. He is a vocal opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in December, he told The Huffington Post that the growing popularity of these positions have given him a larger constituency.
"I've been often a singular spokesman in challenging these wars and trying to set America on a direction away from domination to cooperation and using the resources of the country to create jobs for all, and health care for all, and education for all and retirement security. So I think that the years of work that I have been involved in in Washington, that actually the times have moved in my direction," he said.
Kaptur is the longest-serving woman in the U.S. House of Representatives and a senior member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. If she wins the primary, she intends to seek the top Democratic spot on the committee, since Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) is retiring. A woman has never been the chair or ranking member of the committee.
Kaptur's powerful position on the Appropriations Committee is a big part of her pitch to voters. The committee's members allocate discretionary spending for the federal government and have tremendous power to direct money back to their districts.
"I call myself a lady in waiting," she said in an interview with The Huffington Post on Tuesday, adding, "Women know how to handle the purse strings."
Kaptur says she is the lawmaker best able to show real results for Ohioans, pointing out that the last time someone from her state had the top spot on the committee was when James Garfield was in Congress, before he became president.
"We're talking about a 125-year absence," she said. "That's one of the reasons, when you look around the country, you see so much investment that has left our region because there really aren't strong voices for the Great Lakes ... I'm the last Great Lakes voice left on the entire upper rung, other than Pete Visclosky from Indiana. You look around, we're surrounded by California, New York, Georgia, Washington, New Jersey. It's very coastal. We are very rare, and so I [view] the seniority for our state, for our region and certainly for the Great Lakes as very very important."
"We simply need that position. We can't move forward without it," she added.
On social issues, Kaptur tends to be more centrist than Kucinich, opposing federal funding for abortion. She also supports the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, while Kucinich does not.
The race has been heated, with the two sides accusing each other of corruption and of supporting President George W. Bush's policies. A Texas-based super PAC jumped into the race, as did celebrities like Russell Simmons and Tom Hanks.
Kaptur recently released an ad tying Kucinich to two unpopular local figures: former Cleveland Cavaliers star player LeBron James, who left Ohio to join the Miami Heat, and Art Modell, who tried to move the Cleveland Browns football team to Baltimore.
"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.
Neither Kucinich nor Kaptur has run in a close general election in a long time. Kaptur won her last election by an 18 percent margin, while Kucinich won with 11 percent.
The victor will face off against the winner of the Republican primary, also being held Tuesday, in a November general election. Joe Wurzelbacher -- better known as "Joe the Plumber" -- is running against local auctioneer Steve Kraus.
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