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Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich is perhaps as well-known among peace activists nationwide as he is among his constituents in Cleveland. But Kucinich now finds himself in unfamiliar territory. For the first time since he came to Congress 15 years ago, he is fighting to keep his job. Ohio's new Republican-drawn congressional map pits Kucinich against longtime Democrat Marcy Kaptur of Toledo. The new district they're battling over stretches 120 miles along the Lake Erie shoreline.
Bill Rice, of member station WCPN in Cleveland, has our story.
BILL RICE, BYLINE: Dennis Kucinich is most in his element when he's fighting against social injustice. Wherever he sees an outrage against the little guy, you'll find Kucinich railing against it - like at this recent public meeting about a new trash- to-energy facility the city of Cleveland wants to install in a west side neighborhood.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: This is about our community, where we live. And we're not going to live in a place where there's a garbage incinerator that's ruining our community. So I'm going to take a strong stand on this. We'll use the full power that we can summon from Congress on this...
RICE: That's typical Kucinich, whether he's protesting the war or running for president, as he's done twice.
KUCINICH: My approach is well-known: fearless, willing to take a stand when maybe others wouldn't, and not worried about rocking the boat.
RICE: And it's what probably most sets him apart from congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. When Ohio lost two congressional seats after the last census count, many saw Kucinich's seat as a ripe for elimination. His reputation as a liberal purist, and penchant for the national spotlight, made him a favorite Republican punching bag.
Dave Cohen teaches political science at the University of Akron. He says by contrast, Kaptur, while close to Kucinich in ideology, is much more comfortable as part of the Democratic power structure in Congress.
DAVE COHEN: Kaptur strikes me very much as a coalition builder and someone that, you know, is an inside player and will work and strike deals. Kucinich strikes me as more of an outsider.
RICE: Kaptur's long experience in the House - nearly 30 years - is her biggest selling point. It's earned her a coveted spot on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which she says has helped send millions of dollars to her district.
REP. MARCY KAPTUR: That is a very important committee in the Congress. And I have risen now to the number two position. That seniority doesn't belong to me; that belongs to Ohio.
RICE: Kaptur's biggest challenge is attracting Kucinich supporters in the new district over to her side. Only registered party members can vote in Ohio's primaries, and there are about 60 percent more registered Democrats in Kucinich's home turf than in Kaptur's. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In Ohio, on the day of a primary election, voters may request a ballot to vote in any one party's primary.]
But there's a swath of the new district not currently represented by either candidate, and both are trying to win those voters.
At this labor-sponsored, meet-the-candidates event in Lorain, about 30 miles west of Cleveland, Joel Arredondo, who sits on the Lorain City Council, says Kaptur will get his vote.
JOEL ARREDONDO: I firmly believe that, you know, she brings a lot more to the table with her experience and her expertise. So that's who I'm supporting.
RICE: Others like that Kaptur is a woman who wields considerable clout. But Kucinich has his supporters, too, like Lorain resident Jim Ward.
JIM WARD: It's his passion for the issues; that he doesn't waver on the issues. He says what he stands for. And whatever else might play into it, he'll stand by what he says.
RICE: Any edge Kucinich may have in popularity or name recognition is countered by Kaptur's clear advantage in fundraising. As of September 30th, Kucinich's campaign had under $100,000 on hand, while Kaptur's had more than 600,000 - enough to pay for lots of TV ads in Kucinich's home territory.
For NPR News, I'm Bill Rice in Cleveland.
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