Dennis Kucinich out: Left loses a combative, cheerful voice in Congress

Former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich lost in the Democratic primary Tuesday to Rep. Marcy Kaptur after their Ohio districts were merged by a Republican redistricting plan.

Amy Sancetta/AP
Along with his wife Elizabeth, US Rep. Dennis Kucinich greets his supporters at Rubin's Restaurant and Deli in Cleveland as the votes are tallied in his race against US Rep. Marcy Kaptur on Tuesday night, March 6.

Dennis Kucinich, the so-called boy mayor who eventually turned presidential candidate, may have reached the end of his career in elective politics.

In Tuesday's Ohio primary vote, he fell victim to redistricting, losing to another sitting member Congress in the Democratic primary. Instead of Representative Kucinich, the Democratic candidate for Ohio's recently redrawn 9th district will be Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

Kucinich carved out a profile on the national stage as a fighter for progressive and populist causes. Though he stood shorter than many of his political rivals, his droll humor and quick wit sometimes allowed him to tower over opponents, at least judging by the applause he elicited from the party faithful.

But he drew only a slender share of the popular vote in his primary-race efforts to become the party's presidential nominee in 2004 and 2008. The very things that endeared him to some voters made him "unelectable" to others.

His primary loss Tuesday night was rooted in shifts in the US population, which cost Ohio two of its 18 seats in Congress heading into this year's election. Kucinich and Ms. Kaptur, a 15-term congresswoman, found themselves facing off in a Republican-drawn district that stretches along the shore of Lake Erie from Toledo (Kaptur's turf) to the Cleveland area (Kucinich's).

After winning the primary, Kaptur will face the winner of the Republican primary, Samuel "Joe" Wurzelbacher, who became known as "Joe the Plumber" when he voiced worries about Obama tax policies during the 2008 presidential campaign.

If this marks the end of Kucinich's career as an elected politician, he will have left memories that are viewed variously by many Americans as good, bad, or just quirky.

Bashing Bush and Cheney

"They're out of control," he said of President Bush and Vice President, Dick Cheney, during a late 2007 presidential debate. A relenteless critic of the Iraq war and the way it was launched, Kucinich outlined a provocative response before the CNN audience. "It's called impeachment, and you don't wait. You do it now."

He added: "I'm actualy the only one on this stage who voted against the war, voted against funding the war one hundred percent of the time."

Concern for civil rights

In the same debate, CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer raised the issue of new homeland-security policies under the Bush administration's war on terror. "You voted against the Patriot Act," Mr. Blitzer said to Kucinich.

"That's because I read it," he fired back, to loud applause from the audience.

Blending ambition and self-awareness

In 2003, Kucinich and other back-of-the-pack candidates were confronted in a debate with questions about the viability of their candidacies. "Are you in this as sort of a vanity candidacy?" ABC's Ted Koppel asked.

Kucinich blasted Koppel for focusing on candidate fundraising, endorsements, and poll results well before 2004 primary voting had begun. "When you do that, you don't ... talk about what's important to the American people," Kucinich said. He said he would pull out of the race "when I take the oath of office, when you're there to cover it."

In other venues, he showed an awareness of his long odds. Asked by David Letterman in 2007 how his campaign was going, he cited a poll showing him with 3 percent support, "which means that some people, with a margin of error, believe that I actually exist."

Ventriloquist ... and more

Not every politician is known as a vegan, a friend of Shirley MacLaine, a self-described UFO sighter, and a ventriloquist. Most aren't known as any of those. For Kucinich, it is "yes" on all counts.

He appeared in a humorous profile by Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" in 2011, in which he, on a serious note, confirmed that he supports a cabinet-level department of peace. He then showed off his abilities as a ventriloquist, and played along with a gag in which his interviewer purportedly discovers that Kucinich is an unstoppable cyborg (who happens to quote "Age of Aquarius" lyrics).

Pressed in one presidential debate about account by Ms. MacLaine that he had seen an unidentified flying object, Kucinich responded in the affirmative. Moderator Tim Russert cast his question as a serious one, but Kucinich supporters called the question an unfair hatchet job.

'Boy Mayor'

The Ohio native became mayor of Cleveland at just 31 years of age, in 1978. He backed out of a prior plan to sell the city's electric utility, Municipal Light. The saga continued as banks refused to renew credit to the city, prompting the Kucinich administration to default on obligations. The mayor was finally voted out of office in a recall election, leaving office in 1979.

Kucinich and his supporters say his decision on the utility has been vindicated over time, and that the banks were unfairly conspiring against the city regarding a privatization from which they stood to profit.

Progressive in Congress

Since winning a seat in Congress in 1996, he has championed a range of causes from support for labor unions to combating climate change.

On foreign policy he has argued against major military operations, including the recent one in Libya, that are launched without direct congressional authorization.

As a congressman and presidential candidate, he has backed the idea of a single-payer (government) healthcare system for all Americans.

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