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Slow population growth over the past decade has cost Ohio two of its 18 congressional seats this year to areas with faster growth.
It’s the state legislature’s job to draw boundaries for the congressional districts, and Republicans, who control both houses of the General Assembly, have approved a new district map.
That map -- currently under challenge by Democrats -- would likely force a primary contest between Ohio’s longest-serving Democratic members of Congress: Toledo’s Marcy Kaptur and Cleveland’s Dennis Kucinich.
Kaptur and Kucinich both live in a newly drawn 9th District that stretches from Lucas County along Lake Erie into Western Cleveland. The district is comprised of parts of Kaptur’s old 9th District, Kucinich’s old 10th and the old 13th, now represented by Democrat Betty Sutton. (The new map parcels out Sutton’s old domain into five different districts. She has not said where she might run.)
Kucinich had worried that his Ohio district would be zeroed out. He even explored running for Congress in Washington state, which is expected to have several open Democratic-leaning seats next year. But when the new map was unveiled, he dropped those discussions and sent his supporters a triumphant email headlined: "We Have a District!"
"In a stunning development, the redistricting gave most of the Republican part of my old district to three incumbent Republican congressmen and left most of the Democratic part of my district intact," Kucinich’s email said. "As a result, about 57 percent of registered Democrats in the new district come from my old district. With your help I clearly have a good chance to be able to continue to serve the people of Ohio."
In subsequent interviews, such as one with Truthdig Radio, Kucinich ratcheted down his estimate of his current Democratic constituents that would be in the new district.
"So 54 percent of the registered Democrats from my district are in a new district, and 34 percent are from Ms. Kaptur’s district, and 12 percent from Ms. Sutton’s district," he told Truthdig on Oct. 6. "At this point, it looks like I’m headed for a primary against my friend from Toledo, Marcy Kaptur."
PolitiFact Ohio decided to examine Kucinich’s claim.
Plain Dealer Data Analysis Editor Rich Exner examined precinct-level voting records from all three former congressional districts. He found that roughly 75,000 voters in the new district identify themselves as Democrats, and 32,000 as Republicans. Roughly 50 percent of those Democrats come from Kucinich’s old turf, while 26 percent come from Kaptur’s district, and 24 percent are from Sutton’s area.
Kucinich spokesman Nathan White says that when initial descriptions of the new district filtered out around Sept. 9, Kucinich’s campaign came up with its 57 percent figure by comparing Census data from the cities and townships in the new district with Board of Elections data from all five counties. He said Kucinich’s Sept. 14 email stipulated that the 57 percent figure was an approximation. After the redistricting bill was introduced in Ohio’s legislature, Kucinich’s campaign reexamined the statistics and came up with a number closer to 54 percent. That’s why Kucinich used the lower number in subsequent interviews and discussions, said White.
"Further refinements of the Democratic registration would necessarily depend on splitting the Democratic registration in precincts, and at that point, it’s guess work," White said in an email. "The fact remains that the majority of the registered Democrats in the new district come from Congressman Kucinich’s longtime Democratic base in Cuyahoga County, which is the point that the Congressman has been making."
By our calculations, Kucinich overstated the percentage of Democratic voters from his old district that will carry over into the new one. But he is pretty close and he is correct that the largest portion of the new district’s registered Democrats are part of his old 10th District territory.
Whether that gives him an advantage in a primary contest remains to be seen.
On the Truth-O-Meter, Kucinich’s claim rates Mostly True.
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland Rep. Dennis Kucinich tests the waters in Washington state, July 16, 2011
Rep Dennis Kucinich, email to supporters, September 14, 2011
Truthdig Radio, interview with Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Chris Hedges, October 6, 2011
Email from Kucinich spokesman Nathan White, October 18, 2011
Center for Responsive Politics, Campaign Finance/Money page on Dennis Kucinich, accessed on October 19, 2011
Ohio Secretary of State, Nov. 2, 2010 election results for Representatives to Congress, accessed on October 19, 2011
Center for Responsive Politics, Campaign Finance/Money page on Marcy Kaptur, accessed on October 19, 2011
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