Kucinich Weighs in on the Fight for Ohio
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Just ahead: Correspondents from around the world tell us how they're covering the race for U.S. president. What are political junkies in India, Mexico and Great Britain hearing about the campaign? Plus, ads you can taste? Could that be the next big thing? But first, there's less than a week to go before the March 4th presidential primaries in Texas and Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Ohio and Texas in particular are considered make or break for the Democratic contenders, and Ohio is particularly closely watched as a swing state. Ohio is credited with giving President Bush the edge he needed to secure a second term in the 2004 election. Joining me now to talk more about the Ohio primary, is Congressman Dennis Kucinich, himself a former candidate for the presidency. He represents Ohio's 10th District and he's in is office in Washington. Welcome, sir. Thanks so much for talking to us.
Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio): It's great to be with you. Thank you very much.
MARTIN: So, first, I have to ask, since you decided to leave the race yourself, have you endorsed anyone?
Rep. KUCINICH: No.
MARTIN: And that's because?
Rep. KUCINICH: Well, I'm waiting to hear what they have to say about Ohio. You know, we have had a lots of - hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. We've got about a million people who are either uninsured or under insured. You know, there's people who are very concerned about the war and of the effect that it's having, not just on the young men and women who serve and on innocent Iraqis, but also on our budget. You know, there are needs in Ohio that are not being met because the money is being sucked out of the domestic priorities and put into the war. So, you know, I watched the debate the other night and I'm listening to hear if I have anything - I'm listening in the next few days to see if there's anything that's going to move me from a position of right now not making an endorsement.
MARTIN: Is there a possibility you might, then, endorse?
Rep. KUCINICH: Well, I may not. You know, again - and it's not about me. It's about Ohio. And I listened to the debate. I wanted to hear someone say they are going to cancel NAFTA. I didn't hear that. I wanted to hear someone say that they're ready to end this for-profit health care system. I didn't hear that. I wanted to hear someone say definitively they're going to get us out of Iraq, not a year from now, not, you know, not two years from now, but they're going to start immediately the day they take office, and with a plan. I didn't hear that. So, you know, I'm still listening, and I'm open, certainly.
I know both of them. I respect both of them. They both have extraordinary talents, and I'm very interested in every pronouncement that's coming out of each campaign.
MARTIN: I know we're talking about the primary, but one of the reasons Ohio gets so much attention is that it is a swing state in the general election. As you campaign, are you getting the sense that, on the issues you identified, the question of trade, the question of the war in Iraq, the economy overall, do you have a sense that the voters there are puzzled, divided, polarized about these issues in such a way that in November this is going to be a very close question? I'm just interested in what you're hearing overall.
Rep. KUCINICH: Look, Ohio is going to be close no matter what. I mean, you know, John Kerry really lost the election on the last day in Ohio. And this is going to be another close race with Senator McCain as the presumptive nominee. I think we are looking at a race. And these issues I'm talking about are what I know will mobilize people and will cause people to want to vote Democrat. And so, you know, I'm doing, I'm making these statements in the hopes that, you know, one of the campaigns will understand that what we're concerned about in Ohio.
And it's not just Ohio. You know, Pennsylvania is coming down the line. I know there are places in Texas that have to be concerned about these same issues. And it's a concern on a number of states that have already voted where superdelegates will have to make a decision about who to support at the convention.
MARTIN: There's another factor in the race now, or may or may not be. Ralph Nader, over the weekend, announced that he's going to get back in. But what do you think of that? In fact - and I'm thinking about you because he, like you, criticizes the major candidates for not talking more about universal single pair health insurance. So what do you think of Ralph Nader's decision to get back in? Is he a candidate who is attractive to you?
Rep. KUCINICH: Well, you know, I supported John Kerry the last time. And I, you know, I would expect to support the Democratic nominee this time. But people should listen carefully to what Ralph Nader's saying, because there is a decisive number, you know, there are a decisive number of voters who are concerned that the insurance companies are running health care in America. There are a decisive number of voters who are concerned about NAFTA and who are concerned that we get out of Iraq.
And so rather than simply dismissing Ralph Nader as a spoiler, we should look at and listen carefully to what he's saying. And there's nothing, you know, he doesn't have - he hasn't cornered the market on those statements. Democrats would be free to pick up what he's saying and use it to mobilize the very voters that Ralph Nader is trying to attract. So there's no reason for Democrats to lose this election other than our own lack of commitment to some of the issues that, that Ralph Nader has seized upon as a concern that's expressed by a number of Americans. So, you know, I intend to support the Democratic nominee, and I hope that I can do it enthusiastically.
MARTIN: Speaking of the, just the Democratic race right now, that Hillary Clinton, to date, has had a lead among Democratic voters in Ohio. She's been running particularly strong among white, what we could call working class, and also women, as has been the case in other states. Obama seems to have cut into her lead. To some of you - what are you seeing? What are you hearing?
Rep. KUCINICH: I think probably just what you said. I think your - the analysis that you just offered is probably right on the money.
MARTIN: And, finally, you are of course standing for re-election again, as all members of the House are this year. You've got two primary opponents.
Rep. KUCINICH: Actually, I have four primary opponents.
MARTIN: Four primary opponents, forgive me. I'm just wondering how you feel your race for the presidency is affecting your race for the House?
Rep. KUCINICH: Well, you know, I mean, I was a person who brought NAFTA to the presidential debate. And that's an issue in the my - in the 10th District. And I have been the strongest opponent of the war and the most consistent of those running for president. And that's an issue in my district, and health care is one out of every three people in my district and districts across the country that are either uninsured or under insured. And so I've been the co-author of the bill HR-676 that would create a not-for-profit system with no more premiums, co-pays or deductibles.
Now having said that, what's happening in Cleveland is unlike what goes on in other cities. Cleveland is totally run by a corporate community which is primarily Republican business interests who are investing heavily in one of the other candidates in my race. And they, you know, they're raising an extraordinary amount of money for this one candidate in hopes of knocking me out the primary.
So I'm in a highly contested primary. Well, I think I'll win. There's no guarantees. And frankly anyone who is out there listening who cares about my voice in the United States Congress, you can go to Kucinich.us and help make sure that I get reelected. This is not a given. And, you know, the extent to which the presidential race is played into it is the extent to which I'm challenging interests which didn't like my positions anyhow, and many of them are Republican. They're - who - in the business interests in Cleveland, who have a lock on Cleveland's city hall, really want this congressional seat so they can continue to pile away the money with federal grants and other things that - and concessions that aren't necessarily of benefit to people of this city.
MARTIN: Congressman, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for speaking with us. Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio's 10th Congressional District. He was also a candidate for president this year on the Democratic side. Congressman, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Rep. KUCINICH: Nice talking with you. Thank you very much.