Member-Vs.-Member Races Begin in Ohio

March 6, 2012

By Shira Toeplitz, Roll Call

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.”

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