Democrat Marcy Kaptur fended off her toughest Election Day challenge since the 1980s Tuesday to win a 15th term representing the 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Late-night unofficial results showed Miss Kaptur well ahead of her Republican opponent, Rich Iott, by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.
For an incumbent who typically commands more than 70 percent of the vote, it marked the closest election since her 1984 race against Frank Venner, a Toledo newscaster, when she emerged with 56 percent of the votes cast.
“Overall, I am just very grateful to all the voters across this region and I want to express my gratitude,” Miss Kaptur said Tuesday night by phone.
She attributed the relative closeness of this year's race to her being outspent by Mr. Iott.
Though going into the race party leaders did not consider Miss Kaptur endangered, she campaigned as if her seat were in jeopardy in an election year when
Democratic incumbents nationwide have encountered strong opposition.
She and Mr. Iott, 59, engaged in a hard-fought battle since the spring primaries, with both sides casting aspersions and running negative ads.
A former chief executive officer of a grocery chain, Mr. Iott rode a wave of conservative opposition to President Obama and his stances on health care, economic stimulus, the environment, and dealing with the budget deficit — all policies Miss Kaptur supported.
After winning the Republican primary in May, Mr. Iott enjoyed backing from local Tea Party activists and he outspent Miss Kaptur nearly 3-1, blowing through more than $1.6 million of his own money and raising in excess of $220,000.
Yet Mr. Iott's campaign lost substantial momentum last month amid revelations he had belonged to a group that re-enacts the World War II activities of the Nazi Waffen SS in Eastern Europe. The disclosure grabbed national headlines and swift denunciations.
Mr. Iott defended his involvement in the re-enactments, saying they are a valuable way to teach history. He emphasized that neither he nor the group sympathized with the Nazi cause.
Inside his campaign headquarters Tuesday night in Oregon, Mr. Iott said he had no regrets about the race, and considers his personal contributions in the contest money well spent.
“That was an investment in the country,” Mr. Iott said, wearing dark blue jeans with a red shirt and fleece vest. “I invested that money in this country because I believe in the country. I've made a lot poorer investments in my life, I'll tell you that.”
Mr. Iott spent the better part of election night behind a cranberry curtain with a “Private Please” sign. Though visibly teary-eyed at one point late in the evening, he seemed upbeat when he emerged to speak with reporters and a crowd of nearly 70 supporters.
“Whether we won or not, we think that we made a statement and we did something that was good for the community and good for the state,” said Mr. Iott, who had yet to concede defeat at that point.
“We got a conversation and a discourse out there about a lot of things that needed to be talked about, and we're part of a bigger change across the entire country Wednesday night.”
Asked if he would ever consider running for office again, Mr. Iott said “I would never say no,” as supporters in the room cheered loudly.
Miss Kaptur had her own view of the election results.
“I think both here and across the country people sent a very strong message that they want the economy fixed, and they expect the next Congress to do it,” Miss Kaptur said Tuesday night.
With this year's re-election, Miss Kaptur is set to become the second-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees federal spending. She remains the longest-serving woman in the House.
During his campaign, Mr. Iott focused criticism on Miss Kaptur's votes for “earmarks,” which he argued contribute to the growing $13.6 trillion national debt. Earmarks, or pet spending projects, account for less than 1 percent of the federal budget.
Miss Kaptur said it's her job to bring federal funds to worthwhile local projects such as the Veterans' Glass City Skyway over the Maumee River.
Mr. Iott took more heat over a claim of military service that appeared in his campaign mailings to veterans. Mr. Iott participates in the Ohio Military Reserve, an authorized militia , but he is not a veteran of the armed forces.
The 9th District seldom leaves Democratic hands, though upsets do happen. The late Thomas Ludlow “Lud” Ashley of Toledo held the seat from 1955 to 1980 until losing re-election to Republican challenger Ed Weber. Two years later, a young Miss Kaptur beat Mr. Weber to win back the seat for Democrats.
The district includes most of Lucas County, all of Ottawa and Erie counties, and some of Lorain County.
A third candidate, Joseph Jaffe, a Libertarian, withdrew from the race in September. Nevertheless, he received more than 2,300 votes in Lucas County.
Prior to Tuesday's election and her 1984 contest, the next closest race for Miss Kaptur was in 2004 against Republican Larry Kaczala, the late Lucas County auditor, when she received 68 percent of the vote.
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