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Ohio - 10th District

Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio)

Born: Oct. 8, 1946, Cleveland.
Education: Case Western Reserve U., B.A., M.A..
Occupation: Video producer; public power consultant.
Family: Single; one child.
Religion: Roman Catholic.
Political Career: Cleveland City Council, 1969-71; mayor of Cleveland, 1977-79; Cleveland City Council, 1983; Democratic nominee for U.S. House, 1972; independent candidate for U.S House, 1974; sought Democratic nomination for U.S. House, 1988, 1992; Ohio Senate, 1995-97.
Capitol Office: 1730 Longworth Bldg. 20515; 225-5871.

By Congressional Quarterly

Kucinich arrives in Congress best known for his tenure almost 20 years ago as the "boy mayor" of Cleveland.

During his brief, stormy service as mayor (1977-79), the city fell into financial default.

But in the intervening years, both Cleveland and Kucinich have rebounded. Kucinich was elected to a state Senate seat in 1994 and capped his political comeback by defeating two-term Republican Rep. Martin R. Hoke in the Cleveland-based 10th District.

It was the persistent Kucinich's first congressional election success after four previous House races since 1972.

Perseverance is one of Kucinich's most enduring personality traits. At freshman class orientation in November 1996, he handed out cards depicting himself as a 4-foot 9-inch, 97-pound third- string quarterback in a 1960 school photo.

The race between Hoke and Kucinich drew national attention, as Democrats sought to recapture a seat they had lost in 1992. The 10th, an urban and suburban district that includes many voters of Eastern European descent, tends to lean Democratic.

In 1992, Hoke defeated Democratic incumbent Mary Rose Oakar, who had been damaged by ethical allegations. Democrats took aim at Hoke in 1994, but missed their chance to defeat him when their challenger candidate, Francis Gaul, was also dogged by ethics questions.

In 1996, the equation was different. In his television advertisements, Hoke tried to paint negative images of Kucinich's tenure as mayor. But Kucinich, who sought to link Hoke with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., drew on strong grass-roots support from many district residents.

Kucinich, who has been in the public arena for much of his adult life, says he follows the maxim of the late House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, D-Mass., that "all politics are local."

Kucinich also benefited from an expensive barrage of labor union-funded ads attacking Hoke, particularly on the Medicare issue.

On the road to his acrimonious showdown with Hoke, Kucinich trounced three primary opponents in the state's March 19 primary, winning more than three-quarters of the vote.

In the end, Kucinich may have been aided inadvertently by members of Hoke's own party.

In September 1996, The Associated Press reported that Rep. Bill Paxon, R-N.Y., then chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), said Hoke was one of six Republican House members likely to lose if the election was held then. The NRCC subsequently denied that Paxon had made the remark.

But in early October, Hoke took another hit from a surprising source: Fellow Ohio Republican Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, a freshman from the neighboring 19th District, was quoted in the Cleveland Plain Dealer as saying Hoke would lose his race.

In the 105th Congress, Kucinich will sit on the House Government Reform and Oversight and International Relations committees.

Kucinich, who has a populist streak, is a strong critic of international trade pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. He maintains that they have undermined domestic jobs and has said he will push legislation to reform or repeal the agreements.

In that effort, he is likely to work with another Ohio Democrat, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a leading congressional opponent of both trade agreements.

Unions in Cleveland have been affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs, and Kucinich has expressed an interest in being involved in the effort to expand job training programs for skilled workers.

© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.

Oklahoma - 3rd District

Wes Watkins (R-Okla.)

Born: Dec. 15, 1938, DeQueen, Ark.
Education: Oklahoma State U., B.S1960, M.S1961.
Military Service: Okla. Air National Guard, 1961-67.
Occupation: Communications executive; home building contractor; economic developer.
Family: Wife, Elizabeth Lou; three children.
Religion: Presbyterian.
Political Career: Okla. Senate, 1975-77; U.S. House, 1977-91; candidate for governor, 1990, 1994.
Capitol Office: 2312 Rayburn Bldg. 20515; 225-4565.

By Congressional Quarterly

Watkins has spent the past several years looking for a comfortable political home. Returning to Congress under the Republican banner, he can be expected to maintain the abiding loyalty to his district's interests that made him southeastern Oklahoma's guardian angel on the Hill.

Watkins served from 1977 to 1991 as a Democrat. He was re- elected to his old seat following a six-year hiatus during which he twice pursued the governorship unsuccessfully. The GOP promised him his seniority and rewarded his return with a seat on the Ways and Means Committee.

He left his House seat to run for governor in 1990, narrowly failing to capture the Democratic nomination. The experience, in which he did not receive the help he counted on from people who owed him political favors, left him embittered about the party.

He supported independent Ross Perot's presidential bid for a brief time in 1992, then made a repeat run for governor in 1994 as an independent himself. He finished third but carried his old district and did well enough statewide for some Democrats to blame him for their candidate's defeat.

When his House successor, Democrat Bill Brewster, announced at the end of 1995 that he would not seek re-election, Watkins appeared to take less time deciding whether to run than in deciding which party he would run with.

Watkins chose the GOP, saying that the national party's positions in favor of gun rights and a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution suited him best.

"If I were a political opportunist, I would be running as a Democrat," Watkins stated in June 1996. "But the national Democratic party is controlled by extreme liberals and does not represent Oklahoma's traditional and conservative moral values."

His wife Lou, who represented Oklahoma on the Democratic National Committee for four years, has followed Watkins in his party peregrinations.

During his previous House tenure, Watkins was always more concerned with the needs of his district than with questions of party loyalty. Although he held a position in the House Democratic leadership as an assistant party whip and member of the Steering and Policy Committee, Watkins never displayed interest in national issues at the expense of taking care of his constituents and their fiscal needs.

The product of a classic "Okie" Depression childhood, Watkins pursued a personal mini-Marshall Plan for rural development. Watkins' own family traveled west three times from neighboring Arkansas to California before he was 10 years old.

During a decade on the House Appropriations Committee, Watkins inserted uncounted earmarks into spending bills to benefit his hardscrabble district. Two of his pet projects were fingered by the Reagan administration in a 1988 list of "pork" cited as evidence of the need for a presidential line-item veto.

Among his many projects were advanced technology and international trade centers at Oklahoma State University, his alma mater and former employer. His ties to Payne County (Stillwater), home of the university, helped him carry the district in 1996. Although his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Darryl Roberts, carried the majority of the district's counties, Watkins won big where it counted, in the more populous counties in the north end of the district.

The district's core, "Little Dixie," was thought an unshakable bastion of Democratic support. Roberts, a bluff former prosecutor and Vietnam veteran, centered his campaign on the issue of party loyalty, contending that voters confused by Watkins' party affiliations could not count on him to maintain consistent positions. But Watkins held insurmountable advantages in fundraising and name recognition.

© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.

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