Ms. Kaptur received endorsements from actor Tom Hanks, former Republican Senator Bob Dole, and Rep. John Dingell of Michigan because she helped with efforts to build the World War II Memorial in Washington DC, for which Hanks and Dole were big fundraisers.
Country singer Willie Nelson gave a concert on behalf of the Kucinich political campaign. But among his political donors are movie super-couple Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. Def Jam Records rap/hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons also joined Kucinich on the campaign trail Saturday in Toledo at Scott High School and at a rally in Lorain.
But the two incumbents also brought Latino Congressional colleagues to the district over the past week, in an attempt to court the voting bloc many believe will ultimately decide the race. Ms. Kaptur appeared at a number of locations in Lorain with California Democrat Loretta Sánchez.
Kucinich countered with US Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-Chicago), who appeared at a Lorain café Thursday night and at a rally Friday morning at Latinos Unidos (Latins United) social hall in Toledo’s Old South End. Gutiérrez is the first Latino elected to Congress in the Midwest and has served as a U.S. Representative since 1993. He is a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Gutiérrez told reporters the two Congressmen have been friends for 20 years. The Chicago Congressman also campaigned in northern Ohio for Kucinich when he first was elected to the seat he now holds in 1997 (D-10th District, Ohio).
“I’m happy to come back today,” he said. “It’s very difficult to make campaign decisions, especially when you have two colleagues [referring to Ms. Kaptur and Kucinich].”
DREAM Act separates Kaptur from Kucinich
Both Congressmen told the audience that the DREAM Act is one of the issues that separate Ms. Kaptur and Kucinich in the Ninth District race. Kucinich voted for it when it passed the US House in December 2010. Ms. Kaptur voted against it. The US Senate never took up the legislation, which would provide educational and military opportunities for the children of undocumented immigrants. President Barack Obama called for its passage in his recent State of the Union speech.
“I was one of the people who worked very hard for it,” said Kucinich. “Latinos, but also Arabs, Asians, people from all across the globe. Myself, I come from a family of immigrants, my wife is an immigrant—we have a real interest in letting the immigrant population know that one of their sons is running in this race and voted the right way on the DREAM Act.”
“Dennis Kucinich didn’t hesitate: he stood with the immigrant community and he stood with the children, the most vulnerable immigrant population,” said Gutiérrez. “These are children who came here at a young, tender age and are being offered an opportunity to join our military, to go to college, and to earn their legalization. Yeah, they don’t have papers, but they came here as children. If we turn our back on children, then what kind of Congress do we have?”
“Why should children have to suffer because their parents didn’t do the right thing?” Kucinich openly wondered. “The DREAM Act was a huge step in the direction of justice.”
Gutiérrez also stated that Kucinich voted for health care legislation that would aid undocumented workers and “has stood with agricultural workers.”
“He has stood with our immigrant community each and every time,” said the Chicago Congressman. “So I’m here to stand with him and to ask a community of people to stand with him on Election Day. I think people who care about a Congress that is fair, and just, and equitable and are looking for voices of conscience are going to make the difference.”
Gutiérrez stated his belief that Latinos are looking for candidates who will stand up for the most vulnerable among US-America’s population.
“There are a lot of times that the immigration issue gets put in this Latino box, so let me just make it very clear,” he said.
“Millions of immigrants from non-Hispanic/Latino countries come to the United States. They come from Poland, the Ukraine, Russia. They come from Africa, they come from Arab nations. Go to Detroit and see. Travel back to Chicago and see Polish and Ukrainian neighborhoods and see the kind of suffering because families are divided and destroyed. If you think the only country people get deported is to Mexico, let me take you to the airports of America and you will see crying, destroyed families. Our immigration system destroys families—American families.”
Gutiérrez said he was tired of seeing American citizens go overseas and fight in Afghanistan, only to have their wives or husbands receive deportation notices “from the same government they are giving their blood or their limb for.”
“Dennis Kucinich can see through the demagoguery, the bigotry, and the hatred, which is many times, unfortunately, part of the conversation, the dialogue about our immigration system,” he said. “But look at our families and you will see families of every race, every color, every religion and we need to stand up.”
Ms. Kaptur has called for comprehensive immigration reform and has defended her vote against the DREAM Act because she believes it “singled out” the Latino community. She has gone on record to say any reform must treat every group equally with “no one group targeted, no one group subjected to more investigation than any other group.”
“I look at this Congressional district and there is a district rich in immigrant tradition,” said Gutiérrez. “It needs a Congressman who is going to be faithful to that tradition.”
Those who attended the Latins United rally included Lynda Alvarado, Toledo Board of Community Relations director; Christina Rodríguez, director of Mom’s House shelter, and Tony Rios and his wife Maryori Miranda Rios, who were covering the event for an upcoming edition of “Voces Latino.” Former Toledoan Robert Torres and Richard Romero of Lorain, both vocal Kucinich supporters, also attended the event.
Bright yellow “Viva Kucinich” signs decorated the social hall, placed among red, white, and blue decorations and tiny U.S. and Mexico flags.
The Cleveland-based Congressman spoke briefly of the “star power” each incumbent has brought to the final days of campaigning.
“I think with respect to the people that are supporting me, they know that I’m standing up and speaking out, doing the right thing, an advocate for workers, in particular,” said Kucinich, who touted his appearance at a recent rally for locked-out workers at the Tsubaki plant in Sandusky, Ohio.
“How in the world can you ignore locked-out workers for a year?” he questioned. “Locked-out workers are probably one of the most serious issues in America today. This is a new negotiating tactic on the part of corporations. They just throw the workers out and say ‘Now, let’s talk.’ Wrong. My approach is to make sure the people of this area know I’m a strong supporter of workers and unions. I will make sure economic justice is always the measuring line.”
Ms. Kaptur also attended the Tsubaki worker’s rally the same day last month. Kucinich also met with Cooper Tire workers during a three-month lockout in Findlay, even though the plant is not in the new Ninth District.
While each Congressional Democrat has worked hard to court the Latino vote across the North Coast, the appearance by Gutiérrez may represent the strongest support yet for either candidate. The Puerto Rican Chicagoan has been described as the closest thing the Latino community has to a figure resembling civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr.
According to his biography, Gutiérrez supporters have given him the nickname El Gallito (“the little fighting rooster”) in reference to his fiery oratory and political prowess.
Graham Veysey is also a candidate in the Democratic primary, set for March 6, 2012.
On the Internet: Rep. Kaptur: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ym1OUAUEKUI
Rep. Kucinich: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDCSC0XkVFQ
Rep. Gutierrez: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NVQv9AlqsI
Congressional Hispanic Caucus: http://www.facebook.com/congressional.hispanic.caucus