For the longest-serving woman in the House of Representatives, who also happens to be a Democrat, Hillary Clinton’s historic moment on Tuesday night was not exactly an unalloyed joy.
That’s because Rep. Marcy Kaptur , of Ohio, was an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders – and still is.
So how did she feel, watching a woman in her party become the first female to secure any major party’s presidential nomination – while also watching her chosen candidate fall short?
“Actually, I was proud of both of them because of the way they’ve conducted this campaign,” she said in a video interview for Roll Call’s ‘Power Brokers’ series. “They didn’t mercilessly tear one another apart.”
There were still some pretty testy moments though, no?
“Compared to the other side? Hey, in the way that this job goes, I thought it was light — L – I – T- E — on both sides,” even if they “probably didn’t think so.”
As to what Sanders should do now, she does have one short-term plan in mind: “Let him get a night’s sleep!”
Now 69, Kaptur grew up in Toledo, where her mother was a union organizer and her family owned a small grocery store.
The first in her family to attend college, she was pursuing a doctorate in urban planning at MIT when she was recruited to run for Congress in 1982. She has been serving ever since.
Kaptur was herself invited to join a presidential ticket in 1996 – that of independent candidate Ross Perot , with whom she agreed in opposing the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade treaties she sees as having decimated the country’s manufacturing base and devastated the middle class.
“I opposed them with every ounce of strength I had” and fought President Bill Clinton “with vigor” as he pushed NAFTA through Congress, she said.
In the end, though, she turned down Perot’s invitation to run, in part because “at the time, I was caring for a very ill relative and I just didn’t think it was my time.”
A progressive once named “most valuable member” of the House by the Nation, she’s also a populist who refers to “this place of Washington” as “really a false creation” with a “very insulated economy” cushioned by government jobs, unlike her district back in Ohio.
She describes New York City as “the big financier of outsourcing. … They really aren’t involved in producing either, like in the places I represent; they just move the widgets around the board” and hold inordinate sway in Congress.
The long Democratic primary campaign was more than worth it, in her view: “I am so proud that someone who had to struggle for everything he had … was able to figure out a way to reach millions of people and deliver a message about jobs and the economy, about the inequality of incomes and opportunity, about the next generation and how we’re going to make education affordable for them. I mean, he took it out there and the public heard him.”
Of Clinton, with whom she’s disagreed on Iraq, trade and more, she said, “You have to admire her for her fortitude and for her ability not to be bitter and to continue; I think that’s a very strong message in itself.”
With other Sanders supporters adamant that the seven members of Congress who endorsed him stick with him now – and Clinton supporters eager that they do the opposite, how much is she feeling the cross-pressures?
“I’m not feeling that right now,” she said. “There’s a human factor here. They’ve both been in exhausting campaigns and I think you have to give a little bit of time for the dust to settle.”
On Thursday morning, Sanders scheduled to meet with the president, who is expected to encourage him to start doing what he can to unify the party. The Vermont senator also is holding a rally for supporters at Washington’s RFK Stadium on Thursday afternoon.
So, will many Sanders supporters actually switch their allegiance to Trump, as some have said they’re tempted to do? “I don’t think Bernie Sanders would want that to happen.”
As for the threat Trump poses to Clinton, Kaptur said that’s “uncertain right now because he really has stumbled in some major ways. I don’t know how you” – here she emits a small laugh, though not really out of amusement – “recover from this.’’
Knowing how Ohio’s diversity brought so much to her state, she said,“I couldn’t understand how someone from New York City, with the kind of business experience that he has, could be so offensive to Muslims, to women, to Mexican-Americans – I mean, it confounds me. I kept thinking, ‘Is this an act?’”
Whatever the answer, she said, Sanders supporters have to be careful now: “They can’t be viewed as kamikaze or, you know, crazy; they need to be disciplined, they need to be focused …and take this incredible opportunity. What if those forces could help us elect a Democratic Senate and House again?”
So, she really thinks the House is in play?