Dennis Kucinich loses Ohio primary challenge: Is this a career-ending defeat?


Along with his wife Elizabeth, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich greets his supporters at Rubin's Restaurant and Deli in Cleveland as the votes are tallied in his race against U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur on Tuesday night, March 6, 2012. (Amy Sancetta/AP)
March 7, 2012

Rep. Dennis Kucinich lost a low-turnout Ohio primary on Tuesday to Rep. Marcy Kaptur. As Paul Kane reported:

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), the two-time presidential candidate and icon of the antiwar left, suffered a bruising primary defeat Tuesday as a new Republican-drawn congressional map threatened to end the career of one of the most colorful figures in Congress.

With most attention focused on the state’s GOP presidential primary battle, and no Democratic primary for president, Kucinich was left in a low-turnout race in a newly drawn district against his once-close ally, Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio).

With about 90 percent of the vote in, Kaptur led 60 to 36 percent.

From his stint as Cleveland’s “Boy Mayor” in the late 1970s, including defaults when he refused to sell the city’s electric plant, to his unsuccessful effort to impeach Vice President Richard B. Cheney in 2007, Kucinich has repeatedly thrust himself into the national spotlight. Often coming up on the short end of his fights, Kucinich, 65, never stopped swing­ing but usually did so in a friendly spirit.

His defeat, according to lawmakers, was the latest development in a process that is making Congress a more sanitized, less colorful place. Some of the institution’s most original characters are either retiring or losing reelection battles, in part because their positions or personalities are so easy to caricature. Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), for example, have announced their retirements.

“The one thing that’s being tamped down here is, we’re losing characters. When I got here, you had Jim Traficant, you had Barney, and then Dennis came,” said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio), a nine-term veteran, referring to Frank and former congressman James Traficant, who ended up in prison on corruption charges.

Ohio’s redistricting led the two Democrats, former allies, to face one another. As Rachel Weiner reported :

In a speech just before midnight on Tuesday, Kucinich congratulated Kaptur but said she “ran a media campaign in the Cleveland media market that was utterly lacking in integrity.”

Ohio lost two seats thanks to lagging population growth, and Republicans took advantage of their control of the process to force Democrats into tough races. While Kucinich is far better known nationally, the demographics of the new barbell-shaped district favored Kaptur.

Republicans drew a seat that took 47 percent of Kaptur’s Toledo-based district and 40 percent of Kucinich’s Cleveland-based territory.

Kaptur’s seniority and seat on the Appropriations Committee also gave her a reputation for bringing money home, while some Kucinich constituents gripe that he ignores their needs. She ran a tough campaign, attacking Kucinich repeatedly for considering leaving Ohio for a bid in Washington state.

Kucinich could still move to the Pacific Northwest; the filing deadline there is in mid-April. But he would have to try to establish residency in Washington while representing Ohio in Congress.

For many on the left, Kucinich’s loss means a sad goodbye for a long-serving and outspoken Democratic voice. As Ed O’Keefe and Paul Kane explained:

The Kucinich loss all but removes yet another colorful congressional character from Capitol Hill. He may still move to Washington state to run in a Democratic-leaning district, but doing so may force him to resign first from his current Ohio seat. As he ponders what to do next, let’s look back at some of the more notable, memorable, infamous moments of Kucinich’s long political career:

Late 1970s: Boy Mayor: In 1977, Kucinich — just 31 years old — served as mayor of Cleveland and was dubbed the “Boy Mayor” by TIME Magazine. On his watch, Cleveland became the first major American city since the Great Depression to go bankrupt. In 1978, shortly after surviving a recall vote, Kucinich discussed his tenure on Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” program. He later lost reelection to future senator George Voinovich (R).

November 1996: After running unsuccessfully twice in the 1970s, Kucinich is elected to Congress from Ohio’s 10th Congressional District, winning by just 3 percentage points.

April 2007: Articles of impeachment: In the midst of his 2008 presidential campaign, Kucinich filed articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney regarding his handling of the Iraq war.

Oct. 2007: Says he saw a UFO: During the first debate of the 2008 presidential campaign cycle, Kucinich confirms that he once saw a UFO, adding that Jimmy Carter had seen one also.

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