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House Democrats are retiring en masse.  Not Marcy Kaptur from Ohio.

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House Democrats are retiring en masse. Not Marcy Kaptur from Ohio.

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TOLEDO, Ohio — Few would be surprised if Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio joined the growing list of Democrats retiring from Congress.

In her 40th year in office, Kaptur is already the longest-serving woman in the House’s history. Her heartfelt populism – which earned her an invitation to be Ross Perot’s Reform Party running mate in 1996 – has been overshadowed by the angry economic nationalism advanced by former President Donald Trump’s right-wing allies. And in a redistricting process that has been slowed by partisanship, Republicans seem determined to redesign her Great Lakes District in a way that would make it difficult for her to win again.

But at a dinner here this week, Kaptur vowed to run for office in November no matter how the final card looks. If successful, she will surpass Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski, who served in both the House and Senate before retiring in 2017, as the longest-serving woman in congressional history.

“God has blessed me with good health so far,” said Kaptur, 75, as she finished a late morning breakfast of a scrambled egg, fresh fruit, a English muffin and a cup of hot water that she turned into hot chocolate with a packet of sugar-free powder that she brought from home.

“What’s stored here, what people have taught me,” she added, pointing to her head, “is gold. I now see clearly much more than when I was first elected what I can do to try to help this region compete and survive for years to come.

According to the most recent map, Kaptur’s 9th District would cover more rural and conservative areas while extending more from working-class Toledo into Lucas County across the Lake Erie shoreline and into Democratic neighborhoods of west of Cleveland. The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the map, with justices citing how the steep GOP tilt and three-county split ran counter to voter-approved redistricting reforms. The Republican-controlled legislature must now consider revisions, but it’s unclear whether changes needed in the Akron, Cleveland and Cincinnati areas will have ramifications in Kaptur territory.

National Democrats are nervous. This week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Kaptur to its “Frontline” program for vulnerable members, identifying his district, whatever it is, as a critical midterm battleground.

In a post-industrial area where signs at the city limits promise “You’ll do better in Toledo,” Kaptur presents his re-election case in parochial terms. The Great Lakes region, she said, deserves a dedicated representative familiar with issues such as renewable energy, waterway trade and the invasive Asian carp that threatens the fishing industry. Legislative leaders in downstate Columbus aren’t doing enough for northern Ohio, she argued.

Her pitch reflects how she thinks boundaries should be drawn. She describes the Lake Erie coast as a large community of interest. Retaining part of distant Cleveland is impractical given the mandate to keep cities and counties together. But Kaptur hopes to at least retain Lorain, a lakeside manufacturing town it already represents, and take back surrounding Lorain County, a competitive area for Democrats. The two were nailed to a safe Republican neighborhood under the rejected card.

“We are at the southern limit, the warmest limit, of our continent’s most precious asset – our fresh water, the largest body of fresh water on Earth,” said Kaptur, who proposed a program federal government focused on the Great Lakes on the model of the Tennessee Valley Authority. .

Rep. Marcy Kaptur chats with Rost Walker, a staff member at Reynolds Garden Cafe in Toledo.Brittany Greeson for NBC News

Trump is also considering Kaptur’s decision to run again. She worries about “this fabrication of untruths” surrounding the 2020 election and the pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol in an effort to block certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. And she’s not happy that Democrats have moved away from populist ideals, allowing right-wing disruptors like Steve Bannon to make a “nasty recipe” with legitimate concerns about offshoring and outsourcing.

Kaptur often points to a list that ranks each congressional district by median household income — his is No. 418 out of 441, including U.S. territories — and blames a consolidation of money and political power in that. which are generally wealthy Democratic areas.

“Joe Biden is the first president in my life – and that’s one of the reasons I’m running again, because I’m going to help Joe as much as I can – that’s kind of understood,” he said. she declared. “He’s a guy from the Delaware coast. … But he grew up the son of a man who lost his job. And it matters.

Kaptur is no stranger to redistricting challenges. When she expanded into more rural territory in the 1990s, she bragged to The New York Times that she had “milked my first cow in public recently.” And his current district is one of the most egregious examples of gerrymandering, known as ‘Snake on the Lake’ when it was drawn a decade ago to force Kaptur into a primary against Rep. the time. Cleveland’s Dennis Kucinich – an effort to eliminate a Democratic seat.

Until this year, this 2012 primary was Kaptur’s biggest scare. But she outplayed Kucinich, beating him by 16 percentage points. In the general election, she easily dispatched Republican Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher – better known as “Joe the Plumber” – who was trying to capitalize on his 15 minutes of political fame after being identified in a presidential debate in 2008. Her closest run since was in 2020, when she beat her GOP opponent by 26 points.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur holds a nail file that she once distributed during her campaign.Brittany Greeson for NBC News

Republicans appear to be in a better position to take advantage of an opportunity in Ohio 9 this time around, or at least they seemed to be before the state Supreme Court intervened.

State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, a Republican who had lived in a nearby congressional district, moved to a house within the projected future boundaries and launched a campaign for the seat late last year. State Representative Cliff Riedel of Defiance, a town that would have been added to the Kaptur district under the rejected card, also announced his intention to run.

Even further, Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, a lawyer and former Miss Ohio USA who co-chaired a Women for Trump group in 2020, is campaigning for the seat. One day before declaring his candidacy on TwitterShe and her husband purchased a home across the state in North Township, according to property records. House members aren’t required to live in the districts they represent, and it’s unclear whether new boundaries would alter any of the GOP candidates’ plans to challenge Kaptur.

“The problem with Marcy Kaptur’s four decades in Congress is that Northwest and Northern Ohio don’t have much to show for it,” Gavarone said in a campaign statement. “When we see her in the 9th Ward, we hear some nice talking points about jobs and Lake Erie, but what about runaway inflation, shuttered small businesses, and sweeping anti-enforcement policies. the law his party is shoving down our throats?”

Chris Redfern, former chairman of the state Democratic Party, said he thinks the district will ultimately be drawn more favorably to Kaptur, but she’ll have the advantage anyway.

“Be careful what you wish for,” said Redfern, a Kaptur voter, of Republicans targeting her for defeat. “Marcy Kaptur doesn’t need to Google her zip code, unlike Theresa Gavarone and some of those others. Theresa Gavarone is going to show up in the city of Toledo and talk about Marcy Kaptur? Go on. Dennis Kucinich tried to do this 10 years ago.

House Democrats are retiring en masse. Not Marcy Kaptur from Ohio.

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