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Dennis Kucinich v. Marcy Kaptur: How GOP Redistricting Will Force Out a Top Progressive Congressmember

Two progressive champions are facing off for one seat in Congress. What's a voter to do?

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Is this a possible opening for Kucinich? O'Brien noted that while Kucinich used to be anti-choice, he changed his position before his run for the presidency in 2003. “Whether you hate him or not he's certainly a Catholic legislator who's grappled with issues around reproductive healthcare,” O'Brien said. Kucinich has said publicly that talking with women about reproductive choices changed his mind and led him to support their rights. “We're still uncertain if he'll remain consistent, but he's shown willingness,” O'Brien said.

The other issue that separates Kucinich and Kaptur is war. “When it comes to the idea of war and the actual wars that are in progress, that's where they do differ and that's where a lot of Kucinich's [prominent] statements have come from. That's one of the points where voters are going to see the other candidate as presenting some different points on Iraq or Afghanistan, that might be a swaying point,” Eric Sandy, a reporter for Sun Newspapers in the Cleveland area, told AlterNet.

Kucinich is an anti-war stalwart, calling for a cabinet-level Department of Peace and basing his presidential campaigns on his opposition to intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kaptur, meanwhile, voted to keep funding the wars without a withdrawal timeline. While she's by no means a hawk and has vocally opposed the Iraq war, she also voted against a speedier withdrawal from Afghanistan.

But being an effective member of Congress isn't all about votes. It's about committee positions, amendments to bills, setting an agenda. Kucinich and Kaptur are on no common committees currently; Kaptur, as mentioned above, serves on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Budget Committee, as well as subcommittees on Defense, Agriculture, and Transportation/Housing and Urban Development. Kucinich serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce and on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and as the ranking member on the subcommittee overseeing the stimulus bill. This certainly places Kaptur in a position to, as her reputation implies, bring home funds for her constituents.

After the economic crisis left millions of Americans facing foreclosure, Kaptur became famous (and was featured in Michael Moore's film Capitalism: A Love Story ) for a fiery speech on the floor of the House where she told Americans

“Don't leave your home. Because you know what? When those companies say they have your mortgage, unless you have a lawyer that can put his or her finger on that mortgage, you don't have that mortgage, and you are going to find they can't find the paper up there on Wall Street. So I say to the American people, you be squatters in your own homes. Don't you leave. In Ohio and Michigan and Indiana and Illinois and all these other places our people are being treated like chattel, and this Congress is stymied."

Kucinich, meanwhile, conducted hearings on the foreclosure crisis with his Domestic Policy subcommittee, and pushed for more accountability for banks. Both of them have solid records on economic issues, but Sandy noted that Kaptur's reputation and base of support with blue-collar voters will resonate with the solidly working-class base in the new district—including the parts that neither Kucinich nor Kaptur previously represented.

In an election likely to be decided largely on economic issues, Democrats in Ohio might be in a stronger position than others nationwide—the labor and progressive coalition We Are Ohio got a “Citizen's Veto” of Governor John Kasich's anti-union bill on the ballot in 2011 and then broke records for off-year voter turnout to vote for the measure. (More Ohioans voted against the anti-union measure than had voted to elect Kasich governor the year before.) But that surge will have little meaning for a primary between two Democrats who are both strong on the economy—which makes it hard to tell which way this election will break.