WASHINGTON -- On Tuesday night, progressives confronted the unimaginable: Congress without Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). The eight-term congressman lost his primary election for Ohio's newly created 9th district to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio).
The loss also deprives the nation of a general election contest between two national polarizing figures, as Kaptur will be facing off against the winner of the GOP nomination, Joe Wurzelbacher -- better known as "Joe the Plumber" -- in the general election.
Kaptur and Kucinich were 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.
According to the count on the official Ohio secretary of state website, Kaptur had won four out of the five counties in the district, although not all of the ballots had been counted.
"I thought it was ours to win," she said, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, but in her speech, she assured Kucinich's former constituents that she would "pay attention to them, too."
"I understand that it takes awhile for people to get used to you," she said.
Kucinich was elected mayor at the age of 31 and became known nationally as the "boy mayor of Cleveland." It was in that position that his well-earned reputation for what backers called principle, and enemies called stubborness, was born. It was the late '70s, and the finances of the city were in shambles, as they were across much of the country. Major banks approached the "boy mayor" with an offer they thought he couldn't refuse: privatize the local utility, Muni Light, or face bankruptcy. Kucinich wouldn't sell and the city went into default.
Predictably, his popularity plummeted, and Kucinich was tossed out of office two years after being sworn in. His political career apparently over, he languished professionally and personally. As the years wore on, however, and surrounding cities paid staggering costs for having privatized their own utilities, the people of Cleveland began to take another look at Kucinich. His refusal to sell out -- his willingness to take the political hit for what he believed in -- turned him into a retroactively popular figure. Later studies of Kucinich's decision confirmed that he saved the city and its ratepayers millions over the years.
In Congress, Kucinich has made a name for himself as a steady anti-war voice. He told The Huffington Post in December that the growing popularity of these positions has 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," he said. "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."
Nevertheless, Kucinich was the underdog in the race, primarily because the new 9th district -- drawn up by the state's GOP-controlled legislature -- retains more of Kaptur's former territory than Kucinich's.
Kaptur is the longest-serving woman in the U.S. House of Representatives and a senior member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. 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.
Her powerful position on the Appropriations Committee was 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.
"We simply need that position. We can't move forward without it," she told The Huffington Post on Tuesday morning.
Still, Kucinich may not be gone yet. Before announcing that he would be running against Kaptur, he toyed with the idea of moving to Seattle and running for Congress there.
He could still do that again, although when asked about the possibility Tuesday morning, Kucinich campaign spokesman Andy Juniewicz dismissed the suggestion as a distraction from the election at hand and said they had not even discussed it yet.
UPDATE: 12:26 a.m. -- Kucinich conceded his loss, but he did not go down without taking a final swing at Kaptur in the heated primary contest:
I would like to be able to congratulate Congresswoman Kaptur but I do have to say that she ran a media campaign in the Cleveland media market that was utterly lacking in integrity with false statements half truths, [and] misrepresentations. I hope that is not the kind of representation she would provide to this community. And I don't think the people of Toledo have any idea of the kind of campaign that was run up in the Cleveland area.
Speaking to MSNBC, Kaptur said she and Kucinich had not yet had a chance to talk since the race was called.
This story has been updated to include the results of the state GOP race.
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