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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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As the election season heats up, eyes around the country will be trained on Ohio, one of the biggest swing states in presidential campaigns. Ohio's also got a Senate race worth watching this year, as progressive champion Sherrod Brown faces a challenge for reelection. And the Buckeye State has an energized progressive-labor base following a big victory over S.B. 5, the bill that would have eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.

But in the northern part of the state, the redrawn 9th Congressional district creates another challenge for progressives—and either way this one goes, liberal Democrats lose.

It's a Republican dream, forcing two progressive candidates to fight each other to stay in Congress. That's exactly what's happening as redistricting has thrown Dennis Kucinich, two-time presidential candidate and hero to the anti-war movement, into competition with Marcy Kaptur, who's made news both for a fiery floor speech calling for people under threat of foreclosure to be squatters in their own homes--and for her vocal opposition to abortion, going so far as to sign on with Bart Stupak in vowing to take down health care reform if insurance companies that got federal dollars covered the procedure. 

Kucinich is the representative for the 10th district, and Kaptur has been the member of Congress for the 9th district since 1983--she's currently the longest-serving woman in the House Democratic caucus. 

It's a head-to-head faceoff between two friends, allies and prominent members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and though it probably won't reach Hunger Games -levels of gore, the fight is likely to be messy, and may well end one Democrat's career.

On the Issues

Nick Martin, executive director of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, which endorsed Kucinich, told AlterNet, “Generally, the party feels that both Kaptur and Kucinich are fantastic fighters for progressive causes. The daylight between them on just a handful of issues is so overwhelmed by the unity they have in pushing a progressive agenda.”

And the numbers back him up. According to OpenDemocracy's Head-To-Head Voting Comparison, Kucinich and Kaptur have voted together 90% of the time. Kaptur votes with her party 93% of the time and Kucinich 89% of the time.

Some of the votes they've split on were cap and trade (Kucinich opposed, Kaptur supported), and a bill to allow deepwater oil drilling to resume (Kaptur was in favor.) But there are two issues that not only show a clear difference between the candidates, but also tend to be deeply important to progressive voters.

Kaptur voted against stem cell research, and, as Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice told AlterNet, “She was part of the bloc of legislators who, with the bishops' blessing, were willing to bring down healthcare over abortion.” Kaptur was a signatory of the famous letter that Democrat Bart Stupak sent to Democratic leadership demanding that the bill exclude abortion coverage. (The Hyde Amendment already prevents federal dollars from being spent on abortions, but Stupak, Kaptur and the rest insisted that private insurers getting federal money not be allowed to provide abortion coverage either.)

O'Brien, whose organization polled voters in Kaptur's district in 2009 on abortion and healthcare reform, said, “Kaptur has proved that when it comes to women's health she does not speak to where her constituents are.” The poll showed that both Catholic and non-Catholic voters in her district were twice as likely to feel less favorably toward a congressperson who voted to make it harder to get abortion coverage with their health insurance. (It should be noted that Kaptur did not support any of 2010's particularly pernicious anti-abortion bills, while several other Democrats were cosponsors, and that both she and Kucinich opposed the Republican attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.)