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In Congress, Win a Race, Lose a Friend

In Aftermath of Member-Vs.-Member Primaries, Hard for Some to Maintain Previous Relationships

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call FIle Photo
After Rep. Dennis Kucinich (above) was defeated by fellow Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the relationship between the Democrats cooled considerably.

It’s hard enough for a House Member to stay on Capitol Hill as a lame duck for several months after losing a bruising primary.

It’s even more humbling when the Member must work next to the opponent who defeated him or her.

Four Member-vs.-Member primaries have already been decided this cycle, and bitterness still lingers among several of those lawmakers.

From now through Election Day, 18 more Members will run against each other thanks to redistricting, which created more of the unique matchups than usual this cycle.

“There are no Member-on-Member primaries that are pretty,” said Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), who hails from a state where four Members ended up squaring off against a fellow lawmaker.

The closer the Members were before the contest, the harder to mend the relationship and move on. One-time allies no longer speak or are reduced to merely exchanging pleasantries.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich declared himself the “president” of Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s “fan club” several years before the Ohio Democrats ran against each other in a March primary. Kaptur defeated Kucinich by a substantial margin, and the two haven’t talked since.

“I haven’t spoken to her,” Kucinich told Roll Call last week. “We haven’t talked.”

“I hardly see him,” Kaptur said a few moments later. “I think he’s probably reevaluating many things.”

Similarly, Reps. Bill Pascrell and Steven Rothman dined together at the National Democratic Club ever since they came to Congress in 1996. The two Democrats even sang karaoke on occasion.

But Pascrell and Rothman have made only small talk since their nasty June primary in New Jersey’s 9th district.

“We haven’t sat down to eat yet,” Pascrell, the victor, said. “But we’ve exchanged pleasantries, and that’s where it’s at. Relationships change. Many times relationships are personal.”

In the six weeks since the primary, Rothman has rarely ventured to the corner of the House floor where members of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey delegations convene, sources said. One aide bluntly summed up their relationship status as “fine.”

After the primary, Pascrell blamed Rothman for running a negative race. Pascrell and his allies also saw the primary as unnecessary because Rothman could have run against a Republican incumbent in another district, although most of the redrawn 9th district included Rothman’s current territory.

Rothman’s spokesman did not return a request for comment last week.

“Maybe the relationship will get back to where it was, and maybe it won’t,” Pascrell said.

So far, these matchups show it’s easier for Members if the two foes aren’t close to begin with.

That was the case in Member-vs.-Member primaries in Illinois and Pennsylvania.

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