There are few things that are more difficult to shake than labels. In the political realm especially, when a label seems accurate, or feels like it fits the narrative of a candidate or campaign, labels can be deadly. In the 2004 presidential election, Republicans successfully stuck Democratic nominee John Kerry with the label of “flip-flopper,” and it hurt him in the election. In this presidential election cycle, Texas governor Rick Perry was labeled as, for lack of a better word, unprepared. Everything that Perry did over the course of the campaign began to be viewed through that lens.
One of the most often-used epithets thrown around by politicians is the phrase “carpetbagger,” meaning someone who moves to an area with the idea that the person moved specifically to run for office somewhere that he or she believes is winnable. In 2004, conservative activist Alan Keyes decided to run for the United States senate from Illinois, despite never having lived in the state. Keyes defended himself against these critics due to the strange nature of the race. The Republican nominee dropped out with the race well underway, and Keyes claimed he felt a sense of obligation to run, after being asked to do so by the state GOP. Keyes ended up with 27% of the vote against Democrat Barack Obama. In 2000, Hillary Rodham Clinton ran for the U.S. Senate from the state of New York, and faced similar charges of carpetbagging. Clinton was born and raised in Illinois, attended college in Massachusetts, and was the wife of the governor of Arkansas. While never having lived in NY before 1999, Clinton managed to win 55% of the vote against Republican Rick Lazio.
With all that in mind, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s possible move to Washington state is all the more interesting. Kucinich recently lost a primary fight for his recently redistricted seat in Congress, and is mulling over his options. Kucinich supporters believe that his particular brand of aggressive liberalism will draw find a welcome home in Washington. As a result of redistricting following the results of the 2010 U.S. Census, Ohio lost two seats in Congress, while Washington’s growth caused the state to pick up an additional seat.
There have been politicians in the past who have lost their primary battles, only to continue on as “independent” candidates in the general election. Joe Lieberman lost a primary battle in 2006, only to be elected that November as a member of the “Connecticut for Lieberman” party. In 2010, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski lost a primary battle, only to continue on and win in the general election after waging a campaign as a write-in candidate. While these candidates seem to have thrown the typical rules aside in order to stay in office, but moving across the country is not typically something we see. Kucinich’s apparent willingness to uproot and run for office thousands of miles away was used against him by his opponent, Marcy Kaptur (a sitting Congresswoman from Ohio). As members of the House of Representatives are distributed throughout the country on the basis of population, Representatives are supposed to be more available and accessible to their constituents, and represent them more closely. A Senator has to represent the views of everyone in a state (which are typically more varied), while Representatives have to represent the needs of much smaller districts (which tend to be more ideologically polarized).
It is still an open question as to whether or not Kucinich will make the move to the Pacific Northwest, let alone whether or not Washingtonians would choose to send a man currently representing Ohioans to Congress to represent them going forward. As far as political sideshows go, this promises to be an entertaining one if it moves forward.