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.
Fundraising also presents a challenge for these Members, who must ask donors to take sides against their party colleague. Democratic fundraiser Mike Fraioli, who consults for three Democrats entrenched in tough primaries against fellow party Members, argued it’s yet another factor that makes these types of races unusual.
“In many respects, their donors are put in a position of having to choose among friends,” Fraioli said. “You have to be prepared to make the case why you’re the candidate who belongs in this district. It’s like, ‘Yeah, we like you both. Now what?’”
In 2002, there were eight sets of Member-vs.-Member races: two Republican primaries, two Democratic primaries and four general election fights.
Two years later, in 2004, after Texas redrew its Congressional map a second time, Rep. Pete Sessions (R) defeated then-Rep. Martin Frost (D) in another Member-vs.-Member race.
A decade later, these races might still be a sore subject for some of the Member-vs.-Member primary alumni.
Dingell’s 2002 opponent, ex-Rep. Lynn Rivers, did not respond to a request for interviews on this topic. Former Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) declined to talk about his 2002 primary race against then-Rep. Bob Barr through an intermediary and Barr did not respond to an interview request.
Indiana insiders speculated former Rep. Brian Kerns (R) moved out of state after his 2002 primary loss to then-Rep. Steve Buyer. Kerns couldn’t be reached for comment, and Buyer also declined an interview on this topic through an intermediary.
The other pair of primary foes from the 2002 cycle, Democratic Reps. John Murtha and Frank Mascara, died in 2010 and 2011, respectively.
While there haven’t always been as many Member-vs.-Member primaries as this cycle, these races have long had a reputation for turning into some of the ugliest contests.
Former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) recalled a particularly nasty 1982 contest between Republican Reps. Gary Lee and George Wortley in upstate New York. Wortley was smaller in stature than Lee, and accordingly, Weber remembers Lee’s theme for the race as “beat the wimp.” The theme didn’t work and Wortley won.
“Academic politics is so vicious because so little is at stake,” Weber said. “It’s like that with Members of the same party. We’re not fighting about big issues. We get personal.”
But there might be hope for Kaptur and Kucinich following the primary, after the ugliness of the past few weeks is forgotten.
Dingell called Rivers his “friend” and said he often appears on her radio show.
“We’ve talked and visited since, and I think, as much as we can be, we’ve sought to it that our relationship has been mended,” Dingell said. “We’ve been friends before, and we are friends again.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.