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Rep. Dennis Kucinich

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Rep. Dennis Kucinich
Rep. Dennis Kucinich
Credit: Dennis Kucinich campaign

Dennis Kucinich 'Elect The Peace Candidate' 2004 campaign button
Dennis Kucinich has proposed creating a Department of Peace.
Credit: From the collection of Ken Rudin, NPR News

May 14, 2003 -- NPR's Bob Edwards spoke with Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio as part of an ongoing Morning Edition series of interviews with each of the announced candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Below, NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin provides background on the Kucinich candidacy.

In a variation of the old joke, if you looked up "dark horse" or "long shot" in the dictionary, you might see a picture of Dennis Kucinich. The former mayor of Cleveland and current four-term member of the House is making an improbable run for the Democratic presidential nomination. It's not just the history that only one sitting House member has ever made it to the White House (James Garfield, 1880). If you go by the yardsticks that help determine whether a candidacy has legs -- money, polls and organization -- the Kucinich effort is flat on its back. But what it does have is passion, stoked by those who opposed the war against Saddam Hussein and support universal health care. The ultimate question, of course, is whether that translates into votes, given the fact that other, better-known and better-financed candidates also have anti-war credentials. Kucinich has tough hurdles to climb.

While opposition to the Iraq war is what has galvanized Kucinich's supporters, the Ohio congressman has had little success in getting media coverage. Part of the problem for Kucinich is that Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, has become the media's "preferred" choice among the anti-war candidates. From the beginning journalists seemed to like Dean's combative style, his fiery demeanor, his willingness to take on anyone and everyone who disagrees with him. There is a sense, however, that Dean's act may be wearing a little thin; conversations with many reporters during the recent presidential candidate debate in South Carolina elicited a significant amount of criticism of Dean. The Kucinich camp knows this and sees an opening.

Kucinich supporters argue that ideas can overcome lack of money, but that may be a bit naive. Kucinich pulled in just $173,000 during the first quarter of 2003, less money than any other candidate save Carol Moseley Braun. Money may not be crucial in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, but tell that to the candidates who tried to run in subsequent states without it. Another lingering problem is Kucinich's record as mayor of Cleveland in the late 1970s. Under his stewardship, the city became the first municipality since the Depression to default on its debts. While there is a continuing debate over whether he should be blamed for the city's financial collapse, he nevertheless became the object of national derision and ridicule, so disliked in fact, he had to wear a bulletproof vest when he threw out the first pitch at the Cleveland Indians' 1978 home opener. After two years in office, he lost re-election in a landslide to George Voinovich (R), currently the state's junior senator.

Kucinich nonetheless remains proud of his mayoral record, insisting that he stood up to the business establishment and the big utility companies. Still, he didn't seek another office for 15 years, when he won a term in the Ohio state Senate. In 1996, he defeated Rep. Martin Hoke (R) and has served in the House ever since, representing a completely safe Cleveland congressional district.

Kucinich says he is in the race to stay, convinced he will win the nomination when the party delegates convene in Boston in the summer of 2004 and then go on to defeat President Bush in the general election.

In addition to his opposition to the war and his support for universal health care, he is a vocal foe of wasteful military spending, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization, the Bush tax cuts, and efforts to privatize Social Security. He is co-chairman of the House Progressive Caucus and has introduced legislation calling for a Cabinet Department of Peace.

His supporters say he is someone who is committed to his principles. But on the subject of abortion, there seems to be somewhat of a calculated shift in position. A Catholic and long-time opponent of abortion, he suddenly became an advocate of "choice" as he entered the presidential contest, promising to appoint only judges who back Roe v. Wade. Had Kucinich been considered a candidate to be reckoned with, such a shift in position would be looked at suspiciously by many in the abortion-rights movement; after all, one still hears criticism leveled at Rep. Richard Gephardt over his initial anti-abortion views, views that changed at least 15 years ago. The fact that Kucinich's "evolvement" provoked so little attention may be an indication of how others view his chances.

Related NPR Stories

more Dec. 21, 2003: Rep. Dennis Kucinich's campaign attempts to energize the progressive wing of the Democratic Party despite low polling numbers and a dwindling war chest.

more Nov. 25, 2003: NPR's Robert Siegel talks with Kucinich as part of an All Things Considered series of interviews with the Democratic presidential candidates.

more Nov. 12, 2003: Kucinich on Talk of the Nation.

more Oct. 13, 2003: Kucinich formally announces his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.

more Aug. 5, 2003: All Things Considered presents a Kucinich stump speech excerpt.

more Aug. 1, 2003: On Day to Day, Slate political columnist Will Saletan translates the Kucinich's favorite buzzwords.

more May 4, 2003: Listen to a Weekend Edition Saturday report on the first Democratic presidential debate in the 2004 campaign.

more April 21, 2003: Hear an All Things Considered report on Kucinich's opposition to the Iraq war.

more March 17, 2003: Listen to a Morning Edition report on how the Iraq war issue dominated when Kucinich and other Democrats campaigned in California.

more March 20, 1999: Hear an All Things Considered interview with Kucinich and R & B legend Sam Moore about the "Truth in Rock Act," a bill designed to protect older recording artists from impostors who record and tour using the artists' names.

more More Morning Edition interviews with the 2004 Democratic presidential candidates

Web Resources

  • Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign Web site.

  • Kucinich's House Web site.

  • The House Progressive Caucus, which Kucinich co-chairs.