Presidential Run Done, Kucinich Is Fighting to Keep Seat in House

City Councilman Joe Cimperman is Kucinich's main opponent.
City Councilman Joe Cimperman is Kucinich's main opponent. (Lynn Ischay - The Plain Dealer)
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By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) is back out on the campaign trail, where he always seems to be, hustling for votes in Tuesday's crucial Democratic primary.

But he is no longer running for president or supporting one of the remaining contenders. For the first time since he was elected to Congress in 1996, Kucinich is battling to keep his seat.

The iconic antiwar liberal, whose legislative efforts include proposing a Department of Peace and introducing articles of impeachment against Vice President Cheney, is facing his first serious challenge from fellow Democrats in his Cleveland-based district.

His quadrennial long-shot bids for the White House have shaped a quirky but largely beloved image for the diminutive Kucinich at home and on Capitol Hill. But those very attributes have been turned against the six-term congressman.

"He doesn't want to be our congressman anymore. It's clear he's left the building. The guy's got Hollywood fever, and that would be fine if he was using his national stature to actually get things done," City Councilman Joe Cimperman, Kucinich's main opponent, said in a telephone interview.

Some pillars of the Cleveland establishment have abandoned Kucinich. The mayor and the Cleveland Plain Dealer endorsed Cimperman, citing the incumbent's increasingly national focus. Triad Research, a local pollster, showed that Kucinich's job-approval rating fell from 78 percent in 2005 to 56 percent late last year.

There has been no public polling in the Kucinich race, but the 37-year-old challenger is hoping Tuesday's main attraction in Ohio -- the presidential primary battle between Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) -- will bring out new voters in the 10th Congressional District who also are looking for a fresh face to represent them on Capitol Hill.

Admitting he faces an uphill battle, Cimperman has resorted to attention-generating stunts. He appeared at Kucinich's Cleveland office with a videographer, who taped him handing a "Missing" poster with a large Kucinich mug shot to a front-desk worker.

Cimperman also showed up at Kucinich's home with local pastries, sausage, Stadium Mustard and a map of Ohio, accusing the lawmaker of abandoning his roots in favor of "eating sushi with Sean Penn."

Kucinich, 61, dropped his bid for the White House in late January after assessing the risk of losing his congressional seat, and turned his attention toward Cimperman.

"This attempt to paint me as a part-time congressman is just a lie. If anything, I was a part-time presidential candidate," said Kucinich, whose 11 percent absentee-voting rate was the best of any presidential contender.

Kucinich asked the Department of Homeland Security whether Cimperman's unannounced visits to Kucinich's office and home violated federal laws. He has said outside business groups are using Cimperman to take him out of Congress because of his fights for single-payer universal health care and other anti-corporate stances. Kucinich vows to begin revealing the ways in which downtown developers profit from federal funds after Tuesday night's election returns come in.

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