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She's known to many in Toledo as "St. Marcy," and when staying overnight in Cleveland she sleeps at a convent, but as her political foes have found out, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) fights like the devil to keep her congressional district seat.
Miss Kaptur used aggressive TV and radio advertising, some of it deemed "false" or "half-true" by the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper's fact-check section PolitiFact, to tamp down her opponent's vote in Cuyahoga County and coast to an overwhelming victory Tuesday.
In his concession speech early Wednesday, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) groused that Miss Kaptur's campaign "was utterly lacking in integrity with false statements, half truths, [and] misrepresentations."
One of Miss Kaptur's most biting radio ads put Mr. Kucinich in the same category as LeBron James and Art Modell, two sports figures who are still hated in Cleveland for leaving the city. The Kaptur radio ad picked up on Mr. Kucinich's earlier flirtation with relocating to a more winnable congressional district in Washington state.
In media interviews Wednesday, Mr. Kucinich refused to back down and would not comment on whether he would support Miss Kaptur in the general election -- after having vowed to support the Democratic nominee at the Toledo Rotary Club debate in Toledo one day before the primary election.
Mr. Kucinich told reporters, "You don't come to this community with a bucket of mud one day and come back the next day with a bouquet of flowers."
Miss Kaptur won the Democratic primary for the new 9th Congressional District that stretches from Toledo to Cleveland. Overall, she won the primary 42,462 to 29,899, with third contender Graham Veysey of Cleveland garnering 2,876 votes.
Miss Kaptur demonstrated her ability in 2010 to take off the white gloves and stretch the truth for a political television advertisement. Her ad accusing her 2010 Republican opponent, Monclova Township businessman Rich Iott, of running his former business, Seaway Food Town, "straight into the ground" and putting 5,000 people out of work, was found to be false by The Blade and FactCheck.org, but she stood by it.
The Kaptur campaign maintained that Mr. Iott was an enthusiastic supporter of an unwise sale to Spartan Stores and made millions of dollars in the process.
"Kucinich may be a progressive, but at least he is an honest and sincere one," Mr. Iott told The Blade Wednesday. "I can relate to Dennis' frustration of campaigning against someone who deliberately attacks with falsehoods."
Known as a faithful Catholic who attended St. Ursula Academy, who never married, and who is sometimes kiddingly called "St. Marcy," Miss Kaptur might be expected to lead with an olive branch. According to Steve Fought, Miss Kaptur's campaign manager, Miss Kaptur years ago struck up a friendship with a congregation of nuns in Cleveland. They invited her to stay at their retreat center when she was in town, and she has done so, he said.
But as a politician, Miss Kaptur has not waited around for her opponents to land the first blow.
Henry Gomez, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's politics writer, said both candidates were negative, but it was Miss Kaptur who aired negative ads first. "I don't think that she ran a dishonest campaign, but I think that as PolitiFact showed, she at times stretched the boundaries of truth. I think they were equally negative on each other," Mr. Gomez said.
Mr. Gomez noted that the back-and-forth attacks even extended to Mr. Kucinich accusing Miss Kaptur's campaign of taking his yard signs.
"That's the kind of complaint you hear in student council elections," Mr. Gomez said.
Miss Kaptur said Wednesday that Mr. Kucinich went negative first, putting forth a group called "Veterans for Peace" that accused her of being in league with the "war machine."
"We both voted against Iraq; we both voted for Afghanistan. I voted for defense bills; he did not. He was very misleading. He started it out," Miss Kaptur said.
"I think it was a spirited campaign and a hard-fought campaign. Let's just give it a little while," Miss Kaptur said. "Our focus was on real results across the counties that we represented and the people related to that because they know what we had achieved," she said, referring to her own office. "I feel we were on very solid ground."
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Other targeted ads
Nor was Mr. Kucinich the only one targeted by negative ads.
A Houston-based political action committee spent heavily on TV ads accusing Miss Kaptur of lying about where she lives and of lying about voting against salary increases for members of Congress. The CPA super-PAC is funded by conservative Texas businessmen but threw its support behind Mr. Kucinich because, in their view, he was the more independent of the two.
The negative TV and radio advertising in the Toledo media market had virtually no impact, or maybe it had opposite its intended impact, as Mr. Kucinich received only 870 votes in Lucas County compared to Miss Kaptur's 22,269.
"I was surprised how poorly he performed outside of Cuyahoga and Lorain. His brand seems like it has no appeal outside the west side of Cleveland," Cleveland State University political science professor Justin Vaughn said.
'Sour grapes' cited
He said Mr. Kucinich's election-night complaint about Miss Kaptur's campaign lacking integrity was "sour grapes."
"I think Dennis' tone was just as combative. I didn't think he was as well-organized or as effective. They were equally combative. She was just more professional at being a campaigner," Mr. Vaughn said. "I was somewhat surprised at how less than gracious his concession was, like he's a victim. If he's a victim, it's of his own campaign."
Miss Kaptur's television commercials were criticized by PolitiFact, a fact-checking operation of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. PolitiFact dissected three of the claims made in her commercials and found two "half-true" and one "false." The false one related to a vote taken 12 years ago on a budget amendment.
The commercial accused Mr. Kucinich of voting against "the Democrats' prescription drug benefit for seniors." PolitiFact concluded that the vote was not one that was backed by Democratic leadership and that it was related to Mr. Kucinich's opposition to war funding rather than to drug benefits. Other ads suggested Mr. Kucinich, a progressive icon in the House, did not support bills for labor and veterans.
Mr. Fought said the vote on the 2000 drug prescription amendment was, at the time, the Democrats' best hope of enacting drug prescription coverage for seniors because it had Republican support and that Mr. Kucinich voted against it because it wasn't good enough.
"He let his ideology get in the way," Mr. Fought said.
He said the radio ads linking Mr. Kucinich with Mr. Modell and Mr. James were fact-based and on-target, but only ran a few times.
"That ad's really sticking in his throat," Mr. Fought said.
Mr. Gomez said that a radio ad attempting to link Mr. Kucinich, who has never been accused of wrongdoing, with accused corrupt politician Jimmy DiMora really irritated Mr. Kucinich. And while the radio ad might not have aired many times as a paid ad, it got lots of play through the Cleveland news media.
"They pushed it pretty hard on free media," Mr. Gomez said.
If she defeats the Republican nominee, Samuel Wurzelbacher, known as "Joe the Plumber," in November, Miss Kaptur will have to expend at least as much energy representing Cleveland as she does in her home city.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson endorsed Mr. Kucinich for re-election, but did not sound overly disappointed by the outcome.
"I did endorse Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who for years faithfully served the residents of the city of Cleveland," Mr. Jackson said in a statement relayed by press secretary Andrea Taylor. "I also had the opportunity to speak with Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur during the course of her campaign and look forward to working with her to address the needs of Cleveland residents."
Mr. Fought said the overwhelming victory in the primary contest, the first competitive one of Miss Kaptur's career, revealed the depth of her support in Lucas County. He noted that while Mr. Kucinich did not spend a lot of time in Toledo, he spent heavily on the race, opened an office in Toledo, and brought hip-hop music mogul Russell Simmons to Toledo.
In his own negative advertising, Mr. Kucinich may have wanted to promote Cleveland pride by attacking Miss Kaptur as "Toledo's Kaptur," and saying that "maybe in Toledo politics, facts don't matter." But the campaign backfired when word reached Toledo, according to John Wolfe, 85, a retired Akron-area lawyer who supported Mr. Kucinich.
He said Mr. Kucinich would have been better off ignoring Toledo altogether, as proved by his 870 votes in Lucas County.
"She's tough …," Mr. Wolfe said of Miss Kaptur. "He wasted his money and his time going to Toledo." In a redistricting situation, he said Mr. Kucinich should have stayed away from Toledo "because you just stir people up."
Another Cleveland-area politician who supported Mr. Kucinich, state Sen. Michael Skindell of Lakewood, said he was surprised that Mr. Kucinich got so few votes in Lucas County.
"Even when you have a no-name running against somebody, that person's going to take up 20 to 25 percent of the vote. It just shows that the people in Lucas County felt strongly about the congresswoman," Mr. Skindell said.
Still, he said, PolitiFact showed that some of her commercials were either false or half-true.
"I was disappointed in the tone of the campaign that came from Congresswoman Kaptur. I don't know if I was surprised," Mr. Skindell said.
One of Miss Kaptur's supporters in Cuyahoga County, Lakewood Mayor Michael Summers, said he didn't think there was deliberate misrepresentation on either side.
'A lot at stake'
"I think they both had a lot at stake. I think there were points made on both sides that were sharp points," Mr. Summers said. He said he split with other Cuyahoga County Democratic leaders to support Miss Kaptur because, "Congress is broken and the question was which of these two candidates would be effective and I think Congresswoman Kaptur's view of a local community-up view is probably a more responsible approach rather than the big ideological view, which for Congressman Kucinich is peace."
Miss Kaptur said her political attacks were based squarely on the legislative record.
"If you read [PolitiFact's] analysis, you'll see that there was general agreement that the votes that we summarized were correct. We stand by our ad. Not all bills are simple bills. Bills have complexity to them," Miss Kaptur said, adding that one bill Mr. Kucinich voted no on would have cost northwest Ohio $42 million to help manufacturing if it had failed.
The Plain Dealer's PolitiFact said in each case Mr. Kucinich's votes were against parts of the bills that appropriated money to wars.
Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.