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Member-Vs.-Member Races Begin in Ohio

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Ohio Democratic Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich, longtime allies and now opponents, participate in a debate Feb. 13 as they compete for the 9th district seat after the state lost two seats because of reapportionment.

Five years ago, Rep. Dennis Kucinich called himself “the president” of Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s fan club.

He should have resigned that title a few months ago.

The tenor between the two Ohio Democrats, once allies and now opponents, became increasingly ugly in the final weeks before the Super Tuesday primary — the first of 13 projected Member-vs.-Member races this cycle.

Their contest is symbolic of a unique problem among the 22 incumbents running in Member-vs.-Member primaries this cycle: How do you run against someone who has the same job and, in many cases, votes almost exactly like you?

The race often gets personal and nasty, recalled Michigan Rep. John Dingell, the dean of the House and victor of two Democratic primaries against fellow Members in 1964 and 2002. 

“Both were nasty primaries,” Dingell recalled. “They were primaries between two people who were largely in agreement, which means it tends to be [about] personalities [for] our friends and supporters.”

There are more Member-vs.-Member primaries this year than any redistricting cycle in at least the past 30 years. There are seven Democratic Member-vs.-Member primaries and four Republican Member-vs.-Member primaries expected this year.

The result is often unexpected contests between former friends or longtime foes.

“When you sit in [a] Caucus with someone for 15 or 20 years, you come to know their son’s and daughter’s names,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said. “There’s a familial relationship that’s established that often times we take for granted until these kinds of races occur.”

In recent debates, Kaptur and Kucinich squabbled like siblings, stretching to point out their differences.

Kucinich accused Kaptur’s campaign of stealth yard-sign thievery. Kaptur accused Kucinich of criticizing her hometown in one of his radio advertisements that proclaimed “maybe in Toledo politics, facts don’t matter.”

“It’s a totally different world when you have to go into a new media market, especially when you go into a totally new media market that your opponent has represented for decades,” said Kaptur media adviser David Heller, who also worked on Kucinich’s 1996 bid. “It’s really a great test of a consultant’s abilities.”

In nearby southwestern Pennsylvania, the Democratic primary between Reps. Jason Altmire and Mark Critz also took a more negative tone during the past couple of weeks.

Critz attempted to oust Altmire from the ballot for invalid signatures on his nominating petitions. A state judge ruled Monday that Altmire can stay on the primary ballot, but Critz will likely appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

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