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Campaign Profile:  Dennis Kucinich


Of the eight people seeking the 2004 Democratic nomination for president, four currently serve in Congress - two in the Senate, and two in the House of Representatives. One of them is Dennis Kucinich. As we hear from VOA's Dan Robinson, the four-term congressman from Ohio is given little chance of winning the Democratic nomination, but his presence in the race has helped stir debate on issues ranging from Iraq and its effect on U.S. foreign policy to domestic issues such as health care and the economy.

If one thing is true about Dennis Kucinich, it is that he is a fighter for causes he believes passionately in. In this respect, he may not be much different from other Democrats seeking their party's nomination to challenge George Bush in 2004.

However, Dennis Kucinich considers himself the candidate best able to represent the interests of lower and middle income Americans, the "working class" that has been the traditional base of the Democratic party.

The domestic issues these segments of society are most concerned about are among his key campaign talking points.

"I want to see our domestic agenda focused on here," he said. "So we can have the money that we need for education, tuition-free college, universal single-payer health care, universal pre-kindergarten, child care for all of our children age three, four and five. As president of the United States I'll help to provide peace and prosperity for this country."

Dennis Kucinich grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, the oldest of seven children. His official biography notes that he and his family "lived in 21 places, including a couple of cars," by the time he was 17 years old.

According to the accounts of many who knew him, he was determined to succeed. At 23 he was elected to the Cleveland City Council, and at 31, he was mayor of Cleveland, Ohio's second-largest city and one plagued by industrial job loss and decay.

As remarkable as this was - Kucinich was the youngest person ever elected mayor of a major American city - that first step into big-city politics was marred by controversy.

In a complicated story involving banks and the local power company, Cleveland was declared insolvent after then-Mayor Kucinich refused to sell the local power utility. In 1979, he was voted out of office after only one term and struggled for years to overcome public perceptions of incompetence.

Although he drifted in the political wilderness through the 1980s, by the mid-1990s he was on a rebound, elected to the Ohio state Senate in 1994, and in 1996 to the U.S. House of Representatives.

In Congress Mr. Kucinich became a key member of the "Progressive Caucus," a collection of lawmakers supporting liberal political, social and economic causes, and also spoke out on key international human rights issues.

Mr. Kucinich gained notoriety last year when he led opposition among mostly Democratic members of the House of Representatives to a resolution giving President Bush authority to launch a military strike on Iraq.

"I'm letting you know that there is an advancing tide here of opposition, that it is reflecting what we know to be true, and that is that by and large, the American people oppose this war," he said. "And as we near towards a vote in a few days, the American people are going to be calling this House telling them 'vote no.'"

But Mr. Kucinich was able to generate only 133 votes in the 435-member House against the Iraq war resolution, which also passed easily in the Senate.

However, amid mounting U.S. and coalition casualties in Iraq, Mr. Kucinich has sharpened his criticism of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq and its policy of pre-emptive action in the war on terror.

During a recent televised debate, Mr. Kucinich repeated his pledge that as president he would withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq while repairing what he says is damage to U.S. credibility with allies.

"I will lead this nation in a new direction. A direction where we get away from unilateralism and get away from pre-emption," he said. "That new direction will strike a responsive chord in the world community. That is why the United Nations will follow the plan that I have which will enable the U.N. troops to come in and the U.S. troops to come home."

Critics call Mr. Kucinich overly optimistic and naďve. They cite as proof his proposals to create a new government "Department of Peace," and his call for U.S. withdrawal from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In Congress earlier this year, Mr. Kucinich ran into fierce opposition over his attempts to introduce an amendment to force Vice President Dick Cheney to turn over telephone records relating to Iraq war planning. He was confronted by an angry Republican, Congressman Ray LaHood, who accused him of using Congress to advance his political objectives.

"I believe it is an extension of his presidential campaign to try and besmirch the record of this administration, to besmirch the good name of the vice president," Mr. LaHood said.

Unlike other Democratic candidates for the presidency, such as former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Mr. Kucinich has not been the subject of intense media attention for comments made in the course of the campaign.

The Ohio lawmaker has a platform calling for among other things, universal health care, job creation programs, and a proposal to repeal the "Patriot Act" passed by Congress after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"We need to have economic platforms that put money back into people's pockets, and the social issues that are being used here as wedge issues that tend to divide people are really not worthy of this party," he said. "We need to bring this party together on economic issues."

Although he has attracted support from a few wealthy contributors, Mr. Kucinich has relatively little money to finance his campaign. He routinely ranks at or near the bottom of the Democratic group of candidates in public preference polls.

But it is very much like Dennis Kucinich, who started in politics at the age of 20, not to give up the fight.

He is campaigning in states that have early Democratic "primaries," and vows to remain a candidate all the way through to the Democratic convention in Boston next August, saying he considers this an obligation to those who have supported him.

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