Kucinich Fights On

By Sarasohn, David | The Nation, May 24, 2004 | Go to article overview

Kucinich Fights On


Sarasohn, David, The Nation


Portland, Oregon

The peeling-gilt Aladdin Theatre, in a working-class neighborhood across the river from downtown Portland, generally draws rock acts a little too funky or faded to fill the city's main showcases. Tonight's headliner, Representative Dennis Kucinich, might qualify as either or both. But on this evening at the end of April, the Aladdin, with its 650 seats sparsely filled, is the last outpost of the Democratic presidential primary campaign.

Long after Senator John Kerry has clinched the nomination and all other Democratic contenders have dropped out, Kucinich is soldiering on-not to beat Kerry but to prod him. "Our campaign is giving him a road map to victory," Kucinich says cheerfully before his speech. "It's up to him to take it. Democrats need to demonstrate there is a capacity in our party to attract progressives. We can show there's room in the party." To Kucinich, that means four issues: universal single-payer healthcare, opposition to free-trade agreements, opposition to the Patriot Act and-above everything-getting out of Iraq. Kerry's position, he says, is that "there's a right way and a wrong way" to fight the war, and the idea nearly shakes Kucinich out of his jeans: "No!"

Judging by his almost imperceptible showing in previous primaries, Kucinich might seem an odd adviser on strategies for victory-although he notes proudly that he just won four delegates in North Carolina. But Iraq now seems both a bloodier and bleaker prospect than it did back in the snows of Iowa, bolstering Kucinich's point that target voters want to hear a sharper message on the subject from Kerry.

Kucinich never criticizes the Massachusetts senator directly, but actress Mimi Kennedy (Dharma & Greg) follows the Congressman on stage and asks, "The guy who came home from Vietnam and had the courage to oppose a war he knew was wrong-where's that guy?"

In the two months before Oregon's May 18 primary day, Kucinich is spending a month in the state. At the end of April, he even launched a small TV ad campaign. The spot begins, "Hi. I'm Dennis Kucinich and I've approved this ad because your vote for me will give the Democratic Party the courage to stand for bringing our troops home from Iraq." Oregon was a careful selection for Kucinich's last stand. The state has an active antiwar movement and progressive community and has been a Ralph Nader bastion. Maybe more important, Oregon's primary voters have long shown a persistent fondness for candidates-from Nelson Rockefeller to Frank Church to Jerry Brown-who weren't about to win but who did show up here. …

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