Marcy Kaptur has barely dipped a toe into Ohio's U.S. Senate race this summer - or her own heavily favored re-election campaign, for that matter - but she cannonballed into one of the nation's political hot spots last weekend.
In Connecticut. In hopes of unseating a fellow Democrat.
The trip occurred two days after Miss Kaptur, Toledo's representative in the U.S. House, became 1 of only 22 congressmen not to support a resolution condemning Hezbollah's attacks on Israel - and she still had the Middle East on her mind.
Miss Kaptur appeared July 22 in New Britain, Conn., to endorse Ned Lamont, the upstart primary challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.
The race has drawn national attention, both as a test of the electorate's mood over the Iraq war - which Mr. Lieberman continues to support and Mr. Lamont and many of his supporters oppose - and because Mr. Lieberman has pledged to run as an independent if he loses the Aug. 8 primary.
Miss Kaptur voted against the war in Iraq, where she says American troops have "lost our moral authority" in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.
In a phone interview last week, she said her support for Mr. Lamont grew in part from a feeling that Democrats must police themselves when their members stray from "the people's concerns" on issues such as Iraq. "I'll let the Republican Party deal with itself," Miss Kaptur said. "We have a responsibility within our own party."
The Connecticut swing drew a mild rebuke from Miss Kaptur's Republican opponent, Bradley Leavitt. "I respect the congresswoman, but she should be focusing on the issues here," Mr. Leavitt said. "We've got more issues than who's in Congress - we've got issues of 'where are the jobs going?' "
Mr. Leavitt, a political newcomer, so far is struggling for the funds necessary to challenge Miss Kaptur seriously. He hasn't filed a campaign finance report, which means he's raised less than $5,000.
Miss Kaptur reported nearly $900,000 on hand at the end of June, and she's already started spreading her money to other Democratic candidates. She gave $30,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this year, and $1,000 each to U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D.,
Avon) and U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland (D., Lisbon).
Mr. Brown is the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate; Mr. Strickland is Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate. Miss Kaptur has not campaigned heavily for either of them.
Mr. Strickland's spokesman said he appreciates Miss Kaptur's support so far. A Brown spokesman, Joanna Kuebler, said, "We look forward to seeing her on the campaign trail."
Miss Kaptur said her focus is on helping House candidates across Ohio, including several who are challenging Republican incumbents in races that national analysts rank among the country's most competitive this fall.
If Democrats win control of the House, Miss Kaptur stands to cash in on her congressional seniority. Once seen as a longshot, Miss Kaptur rated the possibility of a Democratic majority "very good" this week based on polls that show large chunks of voters believe the country is on the wrong track.
Even as she splashes into politics, Miss Kaptur is making policy waves.
On July 20, she joined U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) and two other Democrats in voting "present" - meaning neither for nor against - on a resolution condemning attacks on Israel. One Republican and seven Democrats, including three from Michigan, opposed the resolution. Ten representatives were absent.
Miss Kaptur called the resolution "incomplete" and instead is co-sponsoring one that asks President Bush to initiate multilateral negotiations involving Israel, Lebanon, and other surrounding countries.
Mr. Leavitt called the "present" vote "an extremely weak stance on our support for the war on terror and our support of Israel."
Miss Kaptur, who touted her longtime aid work in Lebanon during the interview, blames violence throughout the Middle East on what she called a Bush Administration decision to reduce diplomatic dialogue with Arab nations and increase military action in Iraq.
"They have chosen war as their instrument," she said. "And what happens with war is, you get an equal and opposite reaction. In this case, you get violent reaction."
Miss Kaptur sees working for Mr. Lamont in Connecticut - and potentially beating a prominent pro-war Democrat - as a political reaction of sorts. "It's an opportunity that's now," she said. "It's not next year, it's not November, it's August."
Contact Jim Tankersley at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.
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