Bounced From Congress

03.07.12

What Sank Dennis Kucinich in Ohio Democratic Primary vs. Marcy Kaptur

The diminutive progressive firebrand, thumped by Rep. Marcy Kaptur in the Democratic primary in a merged Ohio district, made enemies in Cleveland, but his abortion switch and quirky behavior may have done him in.

When 32-year-old Dennis Kucinich took on the Cleveland corporate power structure as the “boy mayor” in the late 1970s, he made a lot of enemies, not least of them the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Ever since, the city’s only daily has been unrelenting in its criticism of Kucinich, now 65, and has done everything in its power to undermine his political career, which may or may not have ended with his loss to Marcy Kaptur on Tuesday in the newly reconfigured Ninth Congressional District of Ohio.

Of course, Kucinich’s own quirky behavior helped facilitate his demise. In his first few terms after his election to Congress in 1996, along with all the late-night jokes about his fascination with flying saucers, many progressives in northeast Ohio were upset with his anti-abortion stance and his support for a constitutional amendment banning flag burning. Still, he maintained a loyal, almost cultlike following that fueled easy reelections every two years.

That began to change when he ran for president in 2004, after he switched positions on abortion, satisfying progressives but eroding some of his support among his heavily Catholic constituency. His national ambitions, coupled with his high-profile Hollywood supporters, gave his critics within the Democratic establishment more fodder for their attacks and contributed to his dwindling numbers in both Democratic primaries and general elections since 2004.

Characterized as being out of touch with his hometown constituents and more concerned with impeaching President George W. Bush than bringing home the bacon for his district, Kucinich also became the Democrat Loved by Republicans. A frequent critic of President Obama, the diminutive congressman took up high-profile flights of fancy that diverged somewhat from party orthodoxy or tended to shine a comical light on his persona.

In other words, he was ripe for the picking, and when Ohio lost two congressional seats after the 2010 census, state Republicans merged his and Kaptur’s Toledo-based district, which meant one of the two incumbents would end up out of a job—and just about everyone knew that it wasn’t going to be Kaptur.

The Plain Dealer continued its denigration of Kucinich and heaped praise on Kaptur, with the kind of reverence normally reserved for the patron saint of a small Sicilian village. One 2,500-word profile was so unrelentingly gushing in its characterization of Kaptur that it appeared to have been written by a public-relations flack, not a serious reporter.

Tuesday’s results revealed a rather easy 55-41 victory for the congresswoman. She received more than 90 percent of the vote in her old Lucas County district, while Kucinich received about 70 percent in his Cuyahoga County base. It appears Kucinich’s flashy but failed presidential runs, which eroded support in his district, and enemies lying in the weeds for more than 30 years caught up with him. Meanwhile, Kaptur, who has been in office since 1982, has operated with a low profile and a focused work ethic, maintaining a unified, fiercely loyal base.

The Plain Dealer continued its denigration of Kucinich and heaped praise on Kaptur, with the kind of reverence normally reserved for the patron saint of a small Sicilian village.

What’s next for Kucinich? Don’t expect him to go away quietly. He still has nine more months in office and will use them to trumpet his antiwar positions and his passion for the working man. He may decide to become the leader of the progressive movement, perhaps starting a new party going into 2016. Look for him to be very visible in support of Occupy Wall Street this spring. He may launch a television or radio talk show, with his lovely, leggy young wife as co-host.

And don’t rule out another run for Congress right away. Washington, a progressive state where he has hinted at a campaign this year, holds its primary on May 18, and there are three open Democratic seats to choose from. All Kucinich has to do is get an address there and pay about $1,700 to get on the ballot.