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 two debt defaults and the forced sale of 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 swing*ing 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.
“The place needs character, and characters.”
What’s next for Kucinich is unclear. He has spoken of possibly moving to Washington state to run in a Democratic-leaning district. He would need to establish residency there by mid-April, but it’s not certain he could do that while remaining in Congress representing an Ohio district.
That dalliance — he flew to the state last May to consider it — played into the theme Kaptur used that against him, saying he is more concerned with his quixotic fights against powerful international forces than delivering for the people of his district.
She compared his consideration of leaving Cleveland to the mid-1990s move by the city’s beloved football team, the Browns, and the 2010 departure of NBA superstar LeBron James — two psychic blows still deeply felt in a place that bills itself as the “Sixth City” even though it’s fallen to the country’s 45th largest in the last 50 years .
“Looks like next in line to abandon us is Dennis Kucinich,” Kaptur’s narrator said in a radio ad.
The new 9th Congressional District stretches more than 100 miles from Cleveland (Kucinich’s base) all the way west to Toledo, encompassing 47 percent of her current district. That gave her an edge, as did her years of work on the Appropriations Committee, from which she funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to northern Ohio.