Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) is on the road to not just one, but two Democratic primaries this spring. His presidential aspirations have made at least one former supporter angry enough to run for his seat.
Activist and former journalist Rosemary Palmer (D) has been campaigning against the six-term Congressman for months, and she was joined in the race last week by Barbara Anne Ferris (D), who challenged Kucinich unsuccessfully in 2006. Other potential challengers could emerge in the next couple of months.
Palmer points to Kucinich’s efforts on the House floor Tuesday to bring up an impeachment vote against Vice President Cheney as a classic example of why she’s running for his seat. In the two-hour incident, Republicans essentially took control of the House by providing support for Kucinich’s measure to move to the floor.
“If he’s constantly making the Democrats look bad, they’re not going to work with him to meet his goals,” Palmer said. “We need someone who’s working with [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] and [Majority Leader Steny] Hoyer [D-Md.], not someone who is grandstanding and just making sure everyone is paying attention to him.”
In some districts, that’s a quote Republicans operatives only dream about. But in Ohio’s 10th district Democratic primary, it’s par for the course.
And it’s also why Ferris calls Kucinich “a national joke.”
“I find it reprehensible that he misses so much work,” Ferris said. “I find it reprehensible that he’s been dishonest in terms of his accomplishments and basically everything he’s said he’s saved in this district is gone.”
Ferris was endorsed by The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer in the 2006 primary in part, the newspaper wrote, because of Kucinich’s quixotic presidential aspirations. The paper endorsed the Congressman in the general election later that year, but the district’s largest paper continues to have a tenuous relationship with Kucinich. In fact, Kucinich’s presidential campaign refuses to talk to The Plain Dealer. Media requests for this story were directed to his presidential campaign, which did not return calls seeking comment on his Congressional re-election campaign.
“The conventional wisdom is that Dennis has hurt himself with the presidential campaigns that he’s run,” said Ohio-based Democratic consultant Dale Butland. “But on the other hand, Dennis has always distinguished himself by incredibly good constituent services. His base of support is almost fanatical in a way. You have people who will walk through walls for Dennis Kucinich up there.”
When Kucinich first won his district in 1996, it was much more competitive than it is today. He took the seat away from Republican Rep. Martin Hoke that cycle, but the district lines were redrawn in 2001 to encompass the area west of Cleveland.
Butland said the district is now solidly Democratic and blue-collar, which should be a safe bet for Kucinich.
After all, his presidential campaign is based in Cleveland. But the White House campaign is the only one connected to Kucinich that is currently doing any fundraising.
In the third quarter of the year, Kucinich raised only $40 for his Congressional campaign — as of Sept. 30, he had $327,000 in cash on hand for his presidential campaign that he can transfer to his Congressional account.
Palmer raised about $48,400 in the third reporting quarter, though that includes a $21,300 loan from the candidate. Ferris has raised about $21,700 so far this cycle.
Palmer also has a history with Kucinich. Her husband campaigned for Kucinich in 2006, a race he won with 66 percent of the general election vote. But, she said, only a few weeks after Kucinich won re-election, he announced a second presidential bid.
“Three weeks after he was elected, he said his priority was running for the presidency,” Palmer said. “Rather than working at the job he has, he’s working for the job he’d like.”
Like Kucinich, Palmer and Ferris are vehemently against the war in Iraq. Palmer’s son was killed while on duty in 2005, while Ferris said she never would have voted for the invasion of Iraq.
Coming from the left of the political spectrum is an unlikely position for a primary against the famously liberal Congressman, but both women are counting on dissatisfied constituents to back their bids.
If that doesn’t work, one option for Kucinich critics might be known as a UFO — an unidentified future opponent — in the form of an Independent candidate who could get votes from dissatisfied Democrats and Independents in the general election. The district voted 41 percent for President Bush in 2004 and Kucinich’s Republican opponent received 34 percent in 2006.
At least that’s the strategy Parma Heights Mayor Martin Zanotti said he would have used if he had run for seat in 2006. He was looking into running against Kucinich that year, but he ruled out a run for business reasons.
Although Zanotti — who has no problem saying he’s not a fan of the incumbent — said the two women running against Kucinich are “very, very intelligent,” he believes a Democratic primary challenge is just not practical.
When Zanotti polled the race in 2006, he said he discovered that the likely Democratic voters in the district are Kucinich’s “core base.”
“There’s a great campaign to run,” he said. “And there’s commercial that could be run that drives the message home. You got to hold him accountable for his presidential aspirations, which have totally been done at the expense of the district.”
Furthermore, a three-way Democratic primary would split the dissident vote, he said.
“You’d have to take him on one-on-one,” Zanotti said. “I don’t think a three-candidate race works to their advantage, I think it works to his.”
Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan (D) said even though some people in the district might be sick of his antics, most still see the former Cleveland mayor as their hometown boy.
“To his credit, the reason that he has continually gotten elected is that his constituent services are second to none,” said Hagan. “He’s met everyone in the district at least three times.”