(Editor's Note: This is another in the series of profiles of Democrats running for their party's 2004 presidential nomination.)
(CNSNews.com) - Immediately after retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark exited the stage to thunderous applause at the Democratic National Committee's fall meeting in Washington, D.C., a wave of party activists streamed out of the room. One of Clark's nine rivals for the party's 2004 presidential nomination, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, was up next. In the brief interval between speeches, though, dozens of chairs were vacated.
Like the other candidates, Kucinich chose a theme song to enter and exit the hotel ballroom. He chose John Lennon's "Imagine."
On nearly every issue, Kucinich is to the political left of the competition. He co-chairs the House Progressive Caucus, and his political wish list includes Canadian-style socialized health care ("cradle to grave"), "Medicare for all," a new federal Department of Peace and the repeal of NAFTA. He regularly rails against electric utility deregulation, having written in September about "the absurdity" of deregulation and the "right of utility franchise" being "vested in the people."
Kucinich remains unrepentant about his single term as Cleveland mayor (1977-79), when he failed to balance the city's budget and allowed the city to default on loans rather than divest city-owned properties. More than two decades after his 1979 loss to George Voinovich, Kucinich maintains he "saved public power" in Cleveland.
The little-known former Cleveland mayor and two-term congressman is a long way from front-runner status, but many of his supporters seem hard-pressed to name a solid second choice should Kucinich not win the nomination.
"I find that [the other candidates are] all very wishy-washy on different issues," said Noel Kaufmann, a 38-year-old piano technician residing in the Washington, D.C., area.
"They're certainly not supporting the things that [Kucinich is] supporting - opposing the USA PATRIOT Act, bringing the troops home [from Iraq] - some very fundamental things that I think the Democratic Party should be about and should be outspoken for," Kaufmann explained. "I think the party as a whole has gone more centrist and to the right and is not outspoken [and], in some ways, is even similar to Bush."
"Normally, I'm with the Green Party," Kaufmann said when asked who his second choice would be. "I don't know if I'd necessarily support whatever Green candidate runs. I probably will. But if not, I would say my second choice would be someone like [Rev. Al] Sharpton. Sharpton or [former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley] Braun."
Kucinich "is the only candidate that is saying what any peace activist in this country would support," said Max Obuszewski, a self-described peace activist from Baltimore, Md., who boasts degrees in electrical engineering and business administration.
Like Kaufmann, Obuszewski says his choice was determined by Kucinich's policy positions. "I happen to be someone without health insurance," said Obuszewski. "[Kucinich is] in favor of what's obviously needed: single payer health insurance. [And] he's one of the only candidates who voted against the war."
Sharpton might be his second choice, said Obuszewski. But "I've a suspicion that Al doesn't have much of a chance, so I would vote for Ralph Nader or write in Mahatma Ghandi or something like that."
"I don't even have a second choice," echoed 40-year-old Kucinich supporter Ann Singer.
"When you watch the other candidates during the debates or if you do research at their websites, what their issues are, they have this schizophrenia around being centrist and also trying to pander to the rank-and-file Democratic primary voters. It's painful to watch them," said Singer, who's seeking communications work for a liberal advocacy group.
Political commentator Charlie Cook categorizes Kucinich one of "the have-nots," along with Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), Moseley Braun and Sharpton. That's because they've "raised little money between them and have shown no discernible political progress in polls either in the critical early states of Iowa or New Hampshire or in national polls," Cook explained in one of his election write-ups.
In a late September "Ohio Poll" conducted by the University of Cincinnati, Kucinich was polling third in his home state. U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.) led with 22 percent; U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt (Mo.) had 14 percent and Kucinich 9 percent.
Dan Trevas, communications director for the Ohio Democratic Party, praises Kucinich, calling him "very eloquent and very thoughtful." Other Democrats in the state respect him, Trevas reports, because he's trying to stand out and be the voice of the liberal wing of the party.
But, says Trevas, Kucinich is "probably still fairly controversial" in his home state because "he's a progressive, he's an environmentalist, and he's still saddled with the idea of the old Cleveland and the dark days of Cleveland."
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