Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo won her first primary election contest ever Tuesday, defeating longtime colleague U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) after each battled hard for a foothold in the newly remapped 9th Congressional District.
In the Republican nomination contest between Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher, of Springfield Township, and Steven Kraus, a licensed auctioneer, of Huron, unofficial results showed Mr. Wurzelbacher narrowly winning the nomination.
"I wish to say to my congressional colleague from the Cleveland area, Dennis Kucinich, I thank him very much for his spirited campaign. He worked very hard. He wants to help our country too, and I know he will find ways to do that," Miss Kaptur said to supporters Tuesday night.
Miss Kaptur touted her elevated seniority position as the incoming top-ranking Democrat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, and labeled herself "the jobs Democrat."
She easily carried Lucas County, her home, by a whopping 22,269 votes to the 870 votes garnered by Mr. Kucinich. Miss Kaptur racked up wins in Erie County, by 4,405 votes, Ottawa County, by 1,522 votes, and Lorain County, by 404 votes, offsetting a commanding lead of 15,167 votes held by Mr. Kucinich in Cuyahoga County.
Left relatively in the dust despite a spunky campaign was political newcomer Graham Veysey, 29, who cheekily labeled his two older opponents, who are both 65, as Congresswoman Status and Congressman Quo for their failure to prevent the national debt to rise to $15 trillion. He came in third in all counties, except Lorain, where he beat Mr. Kucinich 217 to 162.
The new 9th District stretches from south and west Toledo to west Cleveland, picking up Lake Erie communities and cities in Ottawa, Erie, and Lorain counties along the way.
Miss Kaptur thanked supporters for making her the longest-serving female in Congress and said she looked forward to the possibility of a woman chairing the House Appropriations Committee for the first time in U.S. history.
"I can't predict the future, but I know that seniority has already gone to work for this region," Miss Kaptur said at a victory party in the Laborers Local 500. She spent the day campaigning primarily at voting locations in Cleveland, Brook Park, and Lakewood in Cuyahoga County, and in Lorain.
Miss Kaptur thanked her Democratic opponents, including Mr. Veysey, whom she called "a young rising talent."
"I think these numbers say we have a lot of work to do," she said, referring to her disappointing vote totals in Cuyahoga County.
She said, "You know, we had a phantom in this race," referring to the Texas super PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability that spent upward of $200,000 on ads in Toledo and Cleveland. She called for campaign finance reform.
"No normal person can stand up to that easily," Miss Kaptur said.
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The mood was downcast in Cleveland.
Mr. Kucinich, the liberal icon and former mayor of Cleveland who twice ran for president, made a brief appearance before supporters crammed into a diner in a middle-class neighborhood in Cleveland's west side.
Early hopes that a large turnout in his favor in Cleveland would defy Miss Kaptur's lead in Lucas County were crushed hours later. He did not acknowledge Miss Kaptur or Toledo in his brief speech.
"I want to thank the people of Cuyahoga County for this tremendous vote of confidence you have given me," he said "This has been a very tough campaign in many ways and it has been one I am proud of the kind of campaign we have run."
Mr. Kucinich appeared at the restaurant with his wife, Elizabeth Jane Kucinich. The two made their way through the crowd, shaking hands and then quickly left. Soon after, the crowd's mood turned to disappointment and thinned out.
Mr. Kucinich's brother, Gary Kucinich, choked back tears as the two hugged.
Mr. Kucinich returned to the restaurant about an hour later to announce he had lost, again thank supporters, but also had harsh words for Miss Kaptur.
"I would like to be able to congratulate Congresswoman Kaptur, but I do have to say that she ran a media campaign in the Cleveland media market that was utterly lacking in integrity with false statements, half truths, [and] misrepresentations. I hope that is not the kind of representation she would provide to this community. And I don't think the people of Toledo have any idea of the kind of campaign that was run up in the Cleveland area," he said.
Miss Kaptur started the campaign with more than $700,000 to Mr. Kucinich's approximately $90,000, though he made up the difference.
By Feb. 15, Miss Kaptur had spent a total of $479,993 and had more than $422,000 on hand. Her campaign was largely funded by contributions from lobbyists and political action committees.
Mr. Kucinich's funding was drawn primarily from individual donations around the country. As of Feb. 15, he spent a total of $809,804 and still had $250,407 in his campaign account.
Both have since brought in thousands of dollars in additional contributions.
Miss Kaptur and Mr. Kucinich were thrown together after the Republican-controlled General Assembly redistricted the state to eliminate two of the state's 18 congressional districts after the 2010 U.S. Census.
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The district was designed to be heavily Democratic to ensure safe Republican districts elsewhere in the state. The district voted 66.8 percent for Democrat Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election and 31.6 percent for Republican John McCain. That Democratic preference will prove to be a high hurdle for Mr. Wurzelbacher or Mr. Kraus.
Mr. Wurzelbacher, 38, is an Air Force veteran and plumber who lives outside the district. Mr. Kraus, 52, is also an Air Force veteran.
Mr. Wurzelbacher vaulted to fame overnight in October, 2008, after he debated in front of his house with Mr. Obama, who had made an unscheduled stop during the campaign for president. During the five-minute conversation, Mr. Obama told Mr. Wurzelbacher he wanted to "spread the wealth around," a phrase conservatives said revealed socialist leanings on the part of Mr. Obama.
Mr. Wurzelbacher campaigned by knocking on doors and speaking to Republican clubs.
He outspent Mr. Kraus $58,741 to $9,806 as of Feb. 15, according to the Federal Elections Commission.
However outgunned, Mr. Kraus ran a plucky campaign, complaining loudly that Mr. Wurzelbacher would not debate him. Mr. Kraus said he was surprised that they were as close as they were.
"I figured I'd beat him," Mr. Kraus said. "I think people wanted solutions. People wanted answers. Joe just gave them platitudes and sound bites. I told them specifics."
When he first came to prominence, Mr. Wurzelbacher came under fire because he lacked an Ohio plumber's license. In a memoir, Mr. Wurzelbacher explained his lack of a state plumbing license by saying his boss was a licensed master plumber and that the city and county permitted him to work under the boss' license and supervision.
Mr. Wurzelbacher said he earned a living by giving speeches and by plumbing and building work. He also helped start an organization to take veterans hunting and fishing, Alaska's Healing Hearts. Since becoming a candidate, Mr. Wurzelbacher paid himself a monthly salary of $3,842 after taxes.
Last year, Mr. Kucinich was widely reported to be eyeing moving to Washington state because he feared his district would be so cut up that he would have no base from which to run. The final shape of the 9th District left him an opening and he abandoned his consideration of a move to Washington.
Of the five counties, Cuyahoga had largest population. It also had more registered Democrats than all the other counties put together, according to statistics developed by the Ohio Democratic Party. The party identified 32,043 Democrats in the Cuyahoga County portion of the district, compared with 28,103 Democrats in Lucas, Erie, Ottawa, and Lorain counties. Those numbers proved to be conservative estimates.
Miss Kaptur, who has never before had a primary opponent, ran a methodical campaign, traveling early and often to Cuyahoga County to strike up relationships in Cuyahoga cities such as Lakewood.
She touted her successes at bringing money into her district, such as for the new I-280 Maumee River crossing and saving jobs at Materion Brush Inc.
She also boasted of her status as the incoming ranking Democrat on the powerful Appropriations Committee, and said Mr. Kucinich's record of voting against defense budgets would leave him with little leverage in attracting Pentagon spending to the district.
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Miss Kaptur also aimed at striking a moderate tone on nuclear power in Ottawa County, where the Davis-Besse power plant is a source of well-paying jobs and tax revenue. Mr. Kucinich opposed the 20-year relicensing of the plant and he asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to hold a public hearing on cracks in the concrete containment building.
Mr. Kucinich went after Latinos for support, playing up his support of the Dream Act over Miss Kaptur's opposition to the law, which did not pass. The Dream Act would make it easier for the children of illegal immigrants to go to college. Mr. Kucinich opened his Toledo headquarters on Broadway, the heart of Toledo's Hispanic community, but Miss Kaptur won the endorsements of the most prominent Hispanics.
The two tried to outcelebrity each other. Mr. Kucinich had Willie Nelson perform a benefit concert for him in Lorain, and hip-hop recording mogul Russell Simmons endorsed him glowingly at an event at Scott High School last weekend.
Miss Kaptur's cast of celebrities including actor Tom Hanks, who endorsed her because of her leadership in making the national World War II Memorial a reality, and Ottawa County's own Crystal Bowersox, who was a runner-up on American Idol in 2010.
In Cuyahoga County, Mr. Kucinich sought to paint Miss Kaptur as "Toledo's Kaptur," and Miss Kaptur found complimentary comments made by Mr. Kucinich about alleged crooked Cuyahoga County Democratic politician Jimmy DiMora to link him to the scandal.
But while Mr. Kucinich's own advertising was relatively mild in its bite, a Houston-based super PAC flooded area airwaves with television commercials accusing Miss Kaptur of lying about living at her family house in Toledo and of lying about voting against pay raises for members of Congress.
The Campaign for Primary Accountability, a political action committee funded by conservative business types, claimed to be enamored of Mr. Kucinich's independence from political bosses. Miss Kaptur and her surrogates accused the group of promoting Mr. Kucinich in the belief that he'll be more easy for Mr. Wurzelbacher to defeat in November.
Miss Kaptur, the self-described daughter of a working-class family, graduated from St. Ursula Academy and the University of Wisconsin and has a master's degree from the University of Michigan. She was working on a doctorate in urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when she was recruited in 1982 to try to take back the long Democratic-held 9th District seat from Republican Ed Weber, who served one term after defeating Democratic incumbent Thomas "Lud" Ashley in 1980.
In a candidate debate in Toledo the day before the election, she said her vote for the Affordable Care Act, known to opponents of President Obama as "Obamacare," was the vote of which she was most proud.
Mr. Kucinich built his campaign on attacking Miss Kaptur's votes for the Iraq War, which he said cost the 9th District $3 billion and the country $547 billion.
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) easily defeated his opponent, Robert Wallis of Convoy in Van Wert County in the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District. Democrat Angela Zimmann of Springfield Township was unopposed for the Democratic nomination, as was Eric Eberly for the Libertarian nomination.
In the primary contest for U.S. Senate, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel outstripped his five opponents to be able to take on Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
Staff Writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report from Cleveland.
Contact Tom Troy at email@example.com or 419-724-6058.