Kucinich fighting to stay in House
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is back out on the campaign trail, where he always seems to be, hustling for votes in Tuesday's crucial Democratic...
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is back out on the campaign trail, where he always seems to be, hustling for votes in Tuesday's crucial Democratic primary.
But he is no longer running for president or supporting one of the remaining contenders. For the first time since he was elected to Congress in 1996, Kucinich is battling to keep his seat.
The iconic antiwar liberal, whose legislative efforts include proposing a Department of Peace and introducing articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney, is facing his first serious challenge from fellow Democrats in his Cleveland-based district.
His quadrennial longshot bids for the White House have shaped a quirky but largely beloved image for the diminutive Kucinich at home and on Capitol Hill. But those very attributes have been turned against the six-term congressman.
"He doesn't want to be our congressman anymore. It's clear he's left the building. The guy's got Hollywood fever, and that would be fine if he was using his national stature to actually get things done," said Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman, Kucinich's main opponent.
Some pillars of the Cleveland establishment have abandoned Kucinich. The mayor and the Cleveland Plain Dealer endorsed Cimperman, citing the incumbent's increasingly national focus. Triad Research, a local pollster, showed that Kucinich's job-approval rating fell from 78 percent in 2005 to 56 percent late last year.
There has been no public polling in the Kucinich race, but the 37-year-old challenger is hoping Tuesday's main attraction in Ohio — the presidential primary battle between Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. — will bring out new voters in the 10th Congressional District who also are looking for a fresh face to represent them on Capitol Hill.
Admitting he faces an uphill battle, Cimperman has resorted to attention-generating stunts. He appeared at Kucinich's Cleveland office with a videographer, who taped him handing a "Missing" poster, with a large Kucinich mug shot, to a front-desk worker.
Cimperman also showed up at Kucinich's home with local pastries, sausage, Stadium Mustard and a map of Ohio, accusing the lawmaker of abandoning his roots in favor of "eating sushi with Sean Penn."
Kucinich, 61, dropped his bid for the White House in late January after assessing the risk of losing his congressional seat, and turned his attention toward Cimperman.
"This attempt to paint me as a part-time congressman is just a lie. If anything, I was a part-time presidential candidate," said Kucinich, whose 11 percent absentee-voting rate was the best of any presidential contender.
Kucinich asked the Department of Homeland Security whether Cimperman's unannounced visits to Kucinich's office and home violated federal laws. He has said that outside business groups are using Cimperman to take him out of Congress because of his fights for single-payer universal health care and other anti-corporate stances. Kucinich vows to begin revealing the ways in which downtown developers profit from federal funds after Tuesday night's election returns come in.
"They want to buy a congressman," he said. "My reputation in Cleveland is that I can't be bought, and I can't be bossed. And people like that about me."
Aware that he has missed 139 votes since January 2007, the lion's share because of presidential campaigning, Kucinich has not missed a roll call since Jan. 15.
He has turned to those fervent backers of his White House campaigns — the 2004 and 2008 races generated more than $12 million — for help raising more than $800,000 for his House race in just a few weeks this year, according to reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Cimperman had raised $487,000 as of mid-February, according to the FEC.
Among those funneling last-minute cash to Kucinich is the family of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt ($4,600), the Medical Marijuana PAC ($5,000), former "Baywatch" actress Alexandra Paul ($500) and Oscar-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis ($1,000).
Kucinich said that Flynt has been a friend for more than 30 years, as have other celebrities, and he defends his reliance on their cash. "My roots in Cleveland are unmistakable," Kucinich said. "But if I didn't have the support of people nationally, I can't tell you that I would have a chance [against Cimperman]. That's the price of politics today."
Kucinich has a history of political rises and falls. Elected to the Cleveland City Council at age 23, he became mayor of Cleveland at age 31 in 1977. But after a tumultuous battle with creditors, the city was left essentially bankrupt. Kucinich was run out of office two years later. After a lengthy sabbatical from politics, he ran for state Senate in the mid-1990s and then ousted a Republican in a tough race for Congress in 1996.
Kucinich's unorthodox side has been on display for decades. But recently it began to grate on local activists who want him to focus on a region that has lost 40,000 jobs in the past 10 years.
"It's not unexpected for Dennis to be quirky. But if I had my druthers, I'd prefer he cast his sights more on Ohio," said Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor.
Applegate and other local labor leaders sat Kucinich down in early January and warned him that if he did not come off the presidential trail, he would lose his congressional seat, according to a source familiar with the meeting, who requested anonymity to speak about the private session.
Cimperman, who faces three other Democrats who may split the anti-Kucinich vote, criticizes Kucinich for not bringing home the bacon. He cites a study of congressional earmarks by the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense that shows only one Ohio Democrat brought in less than the $8.1 million Kucinich secured for home-state projects.
Applegate, however, said lunch-pail workers in Cleveland prefer Kucinich's fiery voice in Congress, even if he has not passed much legislation or brought home as much pork as some others. She is leading a major union push on Kucinich's behalf that includes 30,000 phone calls to union households and two sets of automated calls from union leaders to voters throughout the district.
"It doesn't help us to have all 435 members of the House be compromisers and negotiators," she said.
She shrugged off Kucinich's two presidential campaigns. "It hasn't worn thin yet," she said. "If he were to do it again, that might be a different story."
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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