Marcy Kaptur’s contested Ohio 9th race speaks volumes about the Democratic Party’s place in the Rust Belt

For a congressman who has been in office for nearly 40 years, you’d think he’d meet more patrons at this popular restaurant. But this business is in a new part of his northern Ohio district, which changed dramatically after the last redistricting, and whether Kaptur has served enough time is the most debated question among potential voters.

Previously, Ohio’s 9th District was so reliably Democratic that even though President Joe Biden lost the state in 2020, he carried the district by more than 15 points along the Lake Erie coast from Cleveland to Toledo. Kaptur himself easily won re-election that year.

But the redistricting changed the lines, including counties in the state’s northwest, extending to the Indiana border — creating a much more conservative 9th District that Donald Trump would win — and making Kaptur’s 19th run much more competitive. Not since redistricting forced a primary against incumbent Dennis Kucinich in 2012 has Kaptur faced such a risk.

“A lot of shoe leather, a lot of personal visits, a lot of public events,” Kaptur told CNN in an interview between events that do just that.

The race also features another dynamic with national implications: Kaptur’s Republican opponent, JR Majewski, is a denialist in the January 6, 2021, election at the US Capitol. He said he went to demonstrate peacefully and left when it “got ugly”.

The contest is a clash between longtime Rust Belt Democrat and unabashed Republican Trump.

Midwestern Democrat

Being a northern Ohio brand helps Kaptur a lot. He has been a popular and current figure here for four decades.

But he says being a midwestern Democrat in a party increasingly governed by big-city sensibilities on both coasts is increasingly challenging for him.

“What people on the coast, God bless them, don’t understand is that we’ve lost our middle class,” Kaptur said.

“We’ve lost a lot of people who have worked hard all their lives, even in a lot of these small towns. I understand that. We feel their pain. We’ve been through it together.”

Kaptur relies on voters like Joe Stallbaum, a member of the Toledo neighborhood sheet metal workers Local 33, the union that endorsed Republican Mike DeWine and Kaptur Gov.

Stallbaum has been working on the massive renovation of Toledo’s convention center for nearly two years and says it fills him with pride to help revitalize his hometown. But he also says that many of his friends and colleagues still feel forgotten.

“I think there should be a lot more focus on working class people and what we do,” he explained. “We always seem to fall behind.”

A second-generation construction worker, Stallbaum says he saw many members of his union swing the Democratic Party for Trump in 2016 and other Republicans since then. That union homes make up nearly 20% of the vote helps explain Democrats’ struggles in Ohio and elsewhere in the Rust Belt.

But Stallbaum believes Kaptur is different than the national Democratic Party — he’s someone who appreciates and understands blue-collar workers.

“I always felt like Marcy listened to working-class people. That’s one of the things I like about her. I think she’s very approachable. She doesn’t feel distant. I feel like I could go to her any time I wanted to.”

A longtime supporter of Kaptur, he plans to vote again.

“He’s never given me a reason not to help. Everything he’s always done is for Toledo and our region,” he said. “I trust him.”

Trump’s support continues

But that kind of support for Kaptur is harder to find in new conservative spots in the neighborhood, especially Bud’s Restaurant in Defiance, Ohio, where the coffee is always hot and the conversation is always lively, especially early in the morning. an ordinary group of men fills the stalls.

CNN asked the seven men spread across two tables if anyone planned to vote for Kaptur. Only one said yes.

Trump won Defiance County in 2020 by more than 35 points. Kapturren conceded to challenger Majewski in June.

For Joe Clements, Trump’s endorsement is enough.

“It means a lot. I like Trump,” he said.

But that is debatable, even here.

“The man wants to be a dictator,” said Steve Santo, the lone Kaptur supporter at the table. “You don’t understand that. Our government tried to overthrow us. And that’s the bottom line and you can’t see it. I’m sorry. That’s what happened on January 6th. You can’t tell me anything.”

Majewski being in the Capitol on the day of the uprising is a deal breaker for Santo.

“I would never vote for any of them that were there on January 6th. They actually tried to overthrow our government.”

His friend Scott Brown disagreed.

“I think there were a lot of people there who didn’t come in, just to participate. So I don’t think that would have affected the vote against me.”

Brown, now retired, says his party loyalties have shifted in recent years.

“I always considered myself a Democrat. Since the Democrats are suffering from everything, I changed my feelings about it, and now I’ve registered to be a Republican.”

Terry Howarth also went down against Democrats in Washington.

“Biden has this country: you know Afghanistan, the border, the inflation, that student loan thing.” he said, pausing through his list of grievances with the Biden administration to emphasize how displeased he is with the president’s plan to forgive student loans.

“I paid for my kids’ education, I paid for my own education. If you go to college, you expect a guy who’s almost like nothing here. You expect to pay for somebody’s college education?”

However, not all voters at Bud’s are sold on Majewski, an Air Force veteran who became famous in this area for turning his lawn into a 19,000-foot Trump 2020 sign.

CNN’s KFILE uncovered evidence that Majewski repeatedly promoted QAnon conspiracies, though he has since denied being a follower. He also spread the baseless theory that the January 6 attack “was sponsored by the FBI and was a stage show.”

Seth Peters, a Republican, has not decided who he will vote for because he does not know enough about Majewski’s platform.

“I want to see how he would improve the field. How he would do in Congress, what his plans are. Because I’m 30, almost 31, my wife and I are going to have children and what are they going to do. for our children, for our grandchildren, for our future?” Peters asked.

Through a spokeswoman, Majewski declined CNN’s request for an interview to answer those questions, or to provide information about public events that are outlining his positions.

The issue of abortion dominates

Even as the economy struggles, many voters CNN spoke to across the district said abortion was a top concern. In June, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Since overturning Wade, ruling that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to abortion, many voters have become empowered by what was once considered settled law.

In Toledo, union member and sheet metal worker Stallbaum said women’s rights were the number one issue driving her vote.

“Maybe I don’t agree, someone else might not agree. I don’t care about that,” she said of abortion. “What matters to me is that you make your decision. That person’s decision, that woman’s decision, no one else’s. And I think it was completely wrong to take that away.

He attributes some of this to his trade union values.

“In the trades, it doesn’t matter your race, religion, political affiliation, gender, we’re all paid the same. Men and women are paid the same hourly rate next to each other. Exactly the same. benefits. That’s how it should be across the board.”

With Bud’s return, Republican voter Terry Howarth is also concerned.

“I realize that as she retired from the medical field, to overturn Roe vs. Wade, a lot of women will die,” she said, but made it clear that the issue did not drive her vote and she still plans to support it. Republicans here in November.

Across Howarth’s desk, Greg Steyer says it’s his main problem. He is a Catholic, staunchly against abortion, and even though his son once worked for Kaptur, he says he will vote against him because he supports abortion rights.

“It’s clear that the Democratic Party supports abortion. Probably the biggest question I have is how […] Can the Catholic leadership say they are strong Catholics and still support abortion?” Steyer said.

“Greg and I disagree on the abortion issue,” Howarth replied.

“We have to do something to change the fact that we don’t have 700,000 abortions a year. But we can’t outlaw it.”

After the Supreme Court struck down Roe, a law passed by the Ohio state legislature in 2019 went into effect, banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. That law was temporarily blocked last week, so abortions can now be obtained in the state up to 20 weeks after fertilization.

Majewski has not spoken on the matter. Kaptur supports a woman’s right to choose and told CNN she hears about it from voters across the state.

“A young woman came up to me in Defiance and said, ‘Marcy, if something happens, what should I do?’ He was crying,” Kaptur said.

He acknowledged that the right to abortion in his state is scarce.

“Ohio is a state where this 10-year-old girl who was a victim of incest had to be taken out of state. Her adult relatives had to be taken out of state to make a decision, a consequential decision,” Kaptur. he said, referring to the young girl who traveled to Indiana for an abortion earlier this year.

“I think people want to make that decision freely, within their family, and they don’t want politicians or Washington to take away their freedom.”

Ready to break another record

Kaptur is currently the longest serving female member in the history of the House of Representatives. If she wins and is sworn in for a 20th term in November, she will break another record, surpassing former Sen. Barbara Mikulski as the longest-serving woman in Congress.

Being in office for so long stirs up hard feelings among voters, especially Buds.

“If the guy from Toledo wins, we’re back to basics,” Santo said, referring to Majewski, the GOP challenger.

“Oh, do you want to be on this committee? Well, we’ll let you be on it for a minute or so, but you don’t know what’s going on. But now Marcy’s already put it into motion. She can do it. For Ohio now more than anyone else,” he added.

This sparked friendly jabs from others at the table, teasing that it looked like an ad for Kaptur.

“It’s not that he’s not a good person. I think he’s been in office long enough,” Brown said.

According to others, Kaptur’s almost 40 years in office indicate the need for term limits in Congress.

When CNN asked Kaptur about those concerns, he emphasized that his longevity is a big part of what makes him successful.

“When you come from this country, you only have your seniority and your work ethic to give to your country. Because other places have more voices — California has almost 60 members in Congress. Ohio only has 15.” “he explained.

“When you get there, you’re outnumbered, and you don’t have the stick, you don’t have some of the resources that they have. So it takes longer to get something.”

As the longtime Ohio lawmaker enters the final weeks of his most competitive race in a long time, he made his Rust Belt pitch for another term.

“I come from working people. I know what it takes. And there are few such voices. So I stand on the backs of people who have sacrificed a lot,” he said.