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About What People Say National News Dennis Kucinich loss is end of an era
Friday, 09 March 2012 07:44

Dennis Kucinich loss is end of an era

Written by  JONATHAN ALLEN and ALEX ISENSTADT | Politico
Dennis Kucinich won his 1996 House race on a platform about electric-bill hikes Dennis Kucinich won his 1996 House race on a platform about electric-bill hikes AP Photo

 

Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s rise as a national political figure set up his fall in his new congressional district, where he suffered with Democratic voters in the hardscrabble turf along Lake Erie for a reputation built outside Ohio.

 

It’s a fitting end, at least for now, to a roller-coaster career. He’s lost before only to resurface with another act. And while Kucinich all but closed the door on running for a Washington state House seat on Wednesday — a prospect he had once raised — few believe he’s done in politics.


The short story: At 31, he became the “Boy Mayor” of Cleveland, then presided over the city’s default when he wouldn’t sell a public utility, MUNY Light. But Kucinich bounced back to win a seat in the Legislature and then a 1996 House race on the platform that he had been right about electric-bill hikes. He built a small national following as a fringe presidential candidate in 2004 and in 2008 — campaigns that softened him up back home and made him vulnerable to the defeat he suffered Tuesday night after Ohio Republicans drew him into a district with hisDemocratic colleague, Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

It was a humble end to a congressional career that may have peaked four years ago when he shared the presidential debate stage with Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

“I know Dennis, and Dennis is resilient. Dennis has been leading this country and this nation for many decades now, so he’s not going to stop just because of an election,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Wednesday. “It might even free him up to be more effective.”

The main reason Kaptur won is that the newly drawn district leaned more heavily toward Kaptur’s Toledo turf than Kucinich’s base in Cleveland. Ohio experts say Kucinich had trouble making inroads outside his district, in part because he wasn’t taken as seriously in areas of the district that knew him by reputation alone.

“Running for president twice probably hurt him with some people, and the whole Seattle issue probably hurt him with some people. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” said another member of the Ohio delegation.

During the campaign, Kaptur hammered Kucinich relentlessly, saying he had gone AWOL from his district in favor of leading a national movement and raising his profile. In her TV ads, she stood in front of the Ohio home she has owned for decades. One Kaptur TV spot highlighted an editorial in The Cleveland Plain Dealer that said Kucinich’s “focus has wandered from northeast Ohio.”

“Sometimes you get that backlash, where people say you are too preoccupied with the national and not the local,” said fellow progressive Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). “I think the fact that it was a new district against another incumbent who was well respected also, those were the primary contributing factors.”

Throughout the campaign, Kaptur, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, highlighted the federal funding she had brought back to her blue-collar district.

For fans of Kucinich, an old-school lunch-bucket Democrat who morphed into a progressive icon, he remains a passionate and quixotic crusader for a liberal worldview. Critics deride him as a kook, pointing to his acknowledgment in a presidential debate that he had seen an unidentified flying object and referring to a lawsuit he once filed over an olive pit.

Despite providing lots of fodder for late-night comedians, he has taken his work as a legislator seriously — even though most of his efforts were doomed from the start.

The defining moment of Kucinich’s House career was a loss. He rallied liberal Democrats to vote against the resolution authorizing the Iraq War in 2002. The House passedit easily, but Democrats were badly divided in the final tally.

But the rest of his party, and ultimately the bulk of the electorate, would grow weary of that war. Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War was his central contrast with Hillary Clinton in the early months of a primary that launched Obama to the presidency.

During his race with Kaptur, Kucinich turned his opposition to the wars into something of a last stand — airing a batch of radio ads criticizing his fellow Democrat for funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He brought a slate of big-name liberals into the district, including hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who testified to the passion of his anti-war advocacy.

For now, Kucinich’s congressional career seems to be over. Appearing before reporters at Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport on Wednesday morning before catching a plane back to Washington, the congressman seemed to dismiss the possibility of running in Washington state, which has three vacant seats. The congressman made a series of forays to Washington state last year, when it was reported that for a time, Kucinich was thinking of running for reelection there to avoid having to wage a member vs. member race in Ohio.

“I intend to continue serving the people of my congressional district,” Kucinich told reporters.

“What about after that?” reporters pressed.

“Ask me in January,” Kucinich responded.

If he wants to run in Washington state in 2012, he would need to meet the state’s May 18 filing deadline.

One thing is certain: The lovable loser of the left will long be remembered for the passion with which he played the game and his willingness to take unpopular stands that he believed would be proven right over time.

“At the end of the day, we’re really going to miss Dennis. Dennis is a transformative leader,” Ellison said. “He stood up and spoke eloquently, passionately about Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran. He was a consistent voice for peace. … He almost didn’t vote for the health care bill because it wasn’t good enough.”

Even some Republican friends acknowledged that Kucinich brought a different flavor to the House.

“Dennis brought a unique perspective to the House and is one of the last true ‘characters’ in the House. I will miss working with him,” said Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette.

Link to original article can be found on Politico

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