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The path to re-election for Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in the U.S. House of Representatives, started with a race against the Boy Mayor and will end when she confronts Joe the Plumber.
In March’s Democratic primary, Kaptur defeated Dennis Kucinich, her congressional colleague, after Ohio Republicans redrew the Toledo-area district to pit her against the man who ran Cleveland at 31.
Now, Kaptur faces Republican Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, who gained fame as Joe the Plumber in 2008 when his “spread the wealth” exchange with then-candidate Barack Obama was caught on tape.
Wurzelbacher said he is running as “the guy next door who wants to represent his community.” Kaptur said she feels besieged -- first by Kucinich, and now by Wurzelbacher in the era ushered in by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which removed limits on independent election spending.
Kaptur, 65, said her bid for a 16th term is “like fighting off a hostile takeover.”
“With Citizens United, the elections of today are completely unpredictable,” Kaptur said in a telephone interview from Washington.
The Texas-based Campaign for Primary Responsibility, a super-PAC enabled by the court decision, spent $146,295 against Kaptur and $106,883 for Kucinich in their primary fight. Ohioans for Opportunity, a Columbus-based super-PAC whose treasurer was an aide to former Democratic Governor Ted Strickland, spent $58,000 on radio ads against Kucinich, Federal Election Commission records show. Kaptur won with 56.4 percent of the vote according to unofficial results.
The race between Kaptur and Wurzelbacher won’t be so competitive, said David Wasserman, House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. The district is heavily Democratic and Wurzelbacher, who has never held or sought public office, is “out of his league,” he said.
Still, Wurzelbacher, 38, may use his fame and ties to Republicans including former presidential candidate John McCain to attract outside spending, said James Ruvolo, a former Ohio Democratic Party chairman from Toledo. He was mentioned more than 25 times in the final presidential debate in 2008.
“The question is, will Joe the Plumber’s notoriety give him access to resources,” Ruvolo said in a telephone interview.
Wurzelbacher said he can appeal to Democrats and Republicans who want more than Kaptur has delivered and are looking for a fresh voice. He said he’ll read bills before voting and put a webcam on his desk so the public can watch.
Now, his workspace is a card table with a laptop in an otherwise empty rented house that serves as his Toledo campaign headquarters.
“I’m not your typical Republican,” said Wurzelbacher, sitting behind the table in faded jeans, a flannel shirt and a work jacket. “I’m not wearing a suit most of the time. I’m not hanging out at the country clubs and yachting. I’m usually in a crawlspace, plumbing, working hard, hanging out with my buddies.”
Kaptur said Wurzelbacher appears to be “living off of his campaign fund,” because he has paid himself more than $16,300 since November in a candidate’s salary, reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show.
“I don’t know that the man has ever had a regular job; he’s not a licensed plumber,” Kaptur said. “He doesn’t live in the district, and, as far as I know, never did anything for the people here.”
While he doesn’t have a plumbing license, Wurzelbacher said he was trained in the trade in the Air Force and works on the side besides earning fees speaking engagements. In Wurzelbacher’s financial disclosure filed Jan. 5 with the House showing all income totaling $200 or more in 2010 and 2011, he reported honorariums from 16 groups totaling $141,929. There was no income from plumbing.
House candidates, who don’t have to live in the places they represent, may receive a salary from their campaign committees as long as it’s less than the $174,000 a member of Congress makes or what the candidates received as earned income in the previous year, according to a Federal Election Commission Campaign Guide.
Wurzelbacher said in a statement that Kaptur “is turning to dirty politics because she’s afraid of losing her tax-funded livelihood” and he will “put my history of hard work and real results up against hers any day.”
If elected, Wurzelbacher said his top priority would be replacing the U.S. tax code. He said one option could be former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan, which would tax sales transactions at 9 percent and apply the same rate for business and individual incomes. Cain has endorsed Wurzelbacher and donated $2,500 to his campaign, Federal Election Commission records show.
Kaptur spent more than $1 million to defeat Kucinich and had $104,215 on hand as of March 31, compared with $82,481 for Wurzelbacher, reports show. Of the itemized individual contributions Kucinich reported through Feb. 15, 89 percent came from outside Ohio, compared with 32 percent for Kaptur, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Of the $61,825 in itemized individual contributions reported by Wurzelbacher so far, 18 percent came from Ohio and the rest from Arizona, Texas, Florida and 23 states and the District of Columbia, according to campaign reports.
Asked about the criticism he lacks qualifications, Wurzelbacher said he meets the constitutional requirements to run, and that not holding prior office is good because he has not been bought and can “work for the American people.”
Kaptur said Republicans are “using” Wurzelbacher to try to take advantage of voter discontent about the economy, and she almost sounds like Joe the Plumber when asked why she wants a 16th term.
“I want to be one of those voices fighting for the working men and women of this country because they have too few voices in the Congress of the United States,” she said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Niquette in Columbus, Ohio, at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at email@example.com