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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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Thomas Suddes, adjunct assistant professor of journalism at Ohio University and a long-time observer of Ohio politics pointed out, too, that one of the biggest hurdles for Kucinich may simply be his own reputation—people who love him tend to love him, and people who dislike him tend to be very vehement in that reaction. “People aren't really neutral about Dennis,” Suddes said.


Fixing the Districts

How did we get into this mess in the first place? 

Redistricting is one of the perks of controlling state government—once every 10 years, congressional districts are redrawn to reflect population changes. As  Lois Beckett at ProPublica wrote, “Redistricting is supposed to benefit voters by equalizing districts as the nation's population shifts. But with few strict requirements for how to shape districts — they must have roughly equal populations and not discriminate against minority voters — political parties often can draw political lines largely to their own benefit.”

In Ohio, the new congressional maps passed in September by the Republican-controlled state legislature favor Republicans in 12 of 16 new districts. “This redistricting was one of the worst pieces of gerrymandering we've ever seen,” Martin said. “We're a 50-50 state and they drew a three-to-one advantage for themselves.”

The district now looks like a barbell: Cleveland on one side, Toledo on the other, and a narrow strip of the map connecting the two. The process by which Kaptur and Kucinich were drawn into the same district, though the cities that formed their respective bases are 110 miles apart, is so flagrant and yet so common that it's got a name: “ hijacking.”

Emails released by the  Ohio Campaign for Responsible Redistricting show partisan concerns and the hand of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, also an Ohio representative, in the process. “Speaker Boehner's staff was intimately involved in this,” Martin said. “This was the equivalent of electoral assassination, targeting a good progressive to be taken out, and the means by which they did this is with a pen.”

Cuyahoga County is the most densely populated county in Ohio, and Cleveland is the state's second largest city. Dennis Kucinich was Cleveland's mayor before his election to Congress, and his base is considered to be that city's West Side. The Cuyahoga County Democratic Party has endorsed Kucinich for the new district, but an analysis by the  Cleveland Plain Dealer  found that the new district actually favors Kaptur, at least in sheer numbers. The paper reported that her existing constituents make up 47 percent of the new 9th district, about 50,000 more than those from Kucinich's district. Another 96,000 of them come from Betty Sutton's district, which has been broken up. (Sutton, another Democrat redistricted out of her seat, is now challenging freshman Republican Jim Renacci for the 16th district. AlterNet readers may remember Renacci from  our recent story on ultra-wealthy members of Congress.)

Before the district maps were finalized, Kucinich, who knew there was a target on his back, considered moving to Washington State and running for Congress there. It's unclear yet whether this will have hurt him with his base or other Ohioans, but combined with his two failed runs for the presidency, the  Plain Dealer  noted that some worry his focus isn't on his own district.

Meanwhile, Kaptur's base is in Toledo, a blue-collar city with a storied labor history, and she's been moving quickly to gain support from working-class voters in  Lorain, which the  Toledo Blade  called the “swing county” of the new district. Endorsements from city officials in Lorain highlighted her position on the House Appropriations committee and her history of bringing home dollars to her district.