On Friday, those smart alecks at the New York Observer reported, “Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich are both well-positioned for wins in next week’s Texas and Ohio primaries.” The story ran under the headline “Kucinich and Paul Lead in Ohio, Texas.”
Both maverick congressmen had abandoned the presidential campaign trail to try and save their House seats. Kucinich ended his longshot bid for the Democratic nomination in January, although his name remained on Ohio’s primary ballot for both races. Paul is still running for the Republican nomination, but told his supporters last month that he was going to cut back and devote his resources to his congressional primary instead.
So clearly neither Paul nor Kucinich was going to win a presidential primary. And in fact they were both single-digit performers where they were on the ballot Tuesday. The Observer was predicting that despite early scares for both incumbents, they would both be win their respective parties’ nods for Congress handily. And this time, the smart alecks were proven right.
Paul bested Republican primary challenger Chris Peden of Friendswood by a better than 2 to 1 margin as we go to press. This was despite early reports that Peden was leading Paul by a double-digit margin. Around the time that story broke, Paul’s congressional campaign seemed distinctly nervous about Peden’s primary challenge.
Dennis Kucinich had even more reason to be worried. His main opponent was popular Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman, who was running with the blessing of the city’s Mayor Frank Jackson. North Olmstead Mayor Thomas O’Grady was also in the race.
After two losing presidential campaigns, Kucinich’s constituents were starting to feel he was neglecting their bread-and-butter concerns in order to promote a federal Department of Peace and try to impeach the president. And unlike in 2004, he was increasingly missing congressional votes. “Mr. Kucinich is not a congressman, he is a showman,” Cimperman argued to the Associated Press.
Yet when the dust settled and the votes were counted, Kucinich won more than 50 percent of the vote, a double-digit victory over Cimperman. Kucinich was helped by the multi-candidate field, which split the anti-incumbent vote. But even so, he pulled out an absolute majority, suggesting Cimperman wouldn’t have had an easy time taking him on in a one-on-one fight.
AT FIRST GLANCE, Paul and Kucinich seem like the odd couple. Paul is a Texas Republican who is considered far right. Kucinich is a Democrat from northeast Ohio who is frequently described as far left. Paul is a libertarian devotee of the free-market Austrian school of economics. Kucinich is just a few steps to the right of socialism. Kucinich flip-flopped on life while the ob-gyn Paul maintained that he never saw a medically necessary abortion.
But this isn’t the first time they’ve been paired together. At an American Spectator Newsmaker Breakfast last year, Paul named Kucinich as the Democratic presidential candidate he was closest to. Kucinich’s wife has said her husband would have considered Paul as a possible running mate.
What draws them together is their shared opposition to the war in Iraq: the two of them both support legislation aimed at ending the war that command minority support even among congressional Democrats. It is no exaggeration to call Kucinich and Paul two of the most antiwar members of Congress.
It is exactly that antiwar position that made Paul so vulnerable in the Republican primary. Antiwar Republicans are an endangered species. Paul is one of just two Republicans left in Congress who voted against the original resolution authorizing the use of force. Three Republicans who voted against the war — Lincoln Chafee, John Hostettler, and Jim Leach — lost reelection bids in 2006. Congressman Wayne Gilchrest was defeated in Maryland’s GOP primary last month in large part due to his antiwar views.
Paul’s presidential campaign showcased his opposition to the war to an extent that left many in his conservative district — it went heavily for George W. Bush in 2004 — scratching their heads. Neither Paul nor Kucinich went very far in the presidential primaries (although Paul did finish ahead of Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson in some early contests). Voters tend not to like it when their congressman launches a quixotic bid for the White House. Such a campaign helped cost Bob Dornan his House seat in 1996.
Not this time, however. Reason magazine’s Dave Weigel worried the next Congress will be a gadfly-free zone. Whatever else their primary victories mean, neither party’s congressional leaders can count on such conformity yet. John McCain clinched. Hillary Clinton kept herself alive. Mike Huckabee dropped out.
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