ABCNEWS' Melinda Arons is on the road with Representative Kucinich. For the latest report, scroll down.
The Heartbreak Kid
NEW YORK CITY, Feb. 13 — In what can only be described as perhaps the most bizarre episode yet in the 2004 presidential campaign (which is saying a lot when the candidate in question has been known to participate in collective meditation rituals at fundraisers), Rep. Kucinich stopped by the Tonight Show Thursday night and participated in a spoof of "The Dating Game."
The image of a presidential candidate standing next to Jay Leno on a retro psychadelic game show set was surreal enough, but the contestants' fame and racy answers made it downright Fellini-esque. The participants included Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Tilly, lithe blonde radio talk show host Kim Serafin, who's reminiscent of a Gen X Ann Coulter, and actress Cybil Shepherd.
Some highlights (or, one could argue, lowlights):
*Jennifer Tilly asking in her best Betty Boop voice "How's your hanging chad?"
*Cybil Shepherd screaming "I'm ready for a wardrobe malfunction!" after which she lifted up her dress to reveal satin pink underwear.
*Shepherd towering over Kucinich and trying to make out with him after not being picked, then reprising the skrit-lifting to make sure Kucinich had the chance to see it.
*The young blonde, in what's safe to call a politically incorrect answer, claiming that if she were First Lady and the Chinese president came to the White House, she assumes he'd be bringing take-out so would order the number 4.
Kucinich ended up choosing Bachelorette number 1, Jennifer Tilly, and seemed genuinely shocked and delighted a the contestants' true identities. One can only assume he would have preferred to stay and have a real interview with Jay before heading out, but instead the vegan and his date were sent to dinner on the show at the raw food eatery Raw.
Kucinich's bachelorhood has been a blessing and a curse. While allowing the media-starved candidate to get some much needed coverage, it comes at a price. Participate in gimmicks (remember politicsnh.com' "Who Wants to be a First Lady?" contest?) and risk further ridicule when you'd rather be talking about Iraq and NAFTA, or settle for nothing at all.
Kucinich finds no delegates, but has a good time in late night
NEW YORK CITY, Feb. 3 — Knowing he wouldn't get much airtime on the networks Tuesday night as returns hovering between 0 and 3 percent trickled in, Rep. Kucinich instead took to the airwaves on the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn.
Kucinich talked about his opposition to the war in Iraq and his belief that the nomination fight will go all the way to the convention, where he'll "have as good a chance as anybody" to win the nod. Problem is, you have to pick up some delegates at some point to get there, and tonight Kucinich scored not a one, despite his best showing yet with 5 percent of the vote in New Mexico.
In between bizarre stunts, like making Kucinich shoot free throws (all three of which he missed) while holding a plastic baby doll, Kilborn actually managed to get Kucinich to talk about things he usually doesn't, such as liking George Bush personally. When challenged during the "Five Questions" segment to name one thing he liked about the president, Kucinich said that "when you meet him, he's a very engaging guy."
Kucinich campaigns in Washington state for the next few days before hitting Michigan Friday. The campaign maintains that there are 42 contests left to and that this is only the beginning. They will focus their energies on states where they have decent organizations and grass roots support, such as Washington and Maine.
And as indication that the campaign is still operating on a small scale, new press secretary William Rivers Pitt proclaimed his excitement at finally getting to join the campaign on the road full-time by enthusing "I can't wait to get back in the van!" — a reference to the inevitable rented van which transports Kucinich and a few key staffers in each city.
Oops, He Did It Again
JAN 28--Rep. Kucinich left New Hampshire much like he left Iowa, with a last place finish and an enthusiastic, if unrealistic, pledge to keep trucking though in every state to pick up delegates and eventually win the nomination.
The crowd was in a frenzy by the end of Kucinich's speech at campaign headquarters in downtown Manchester Tuesday night, chanting his name and jumping up and down so much that the floor shook. Seemingly undeterred by his meager two percent showing, Kucinich gave his signature anti-war rallying cry and claimed his campaign is viable throughout the country: "Some candidates put all their eggs in one basket…I put a lot of little eggs in 50 baskets."
The gathering was distinctly Kucinich-ian in flavor. Feeling more like a city council victory party than a presidential primary, there was a relatively small but dedicated audience, homemade signs and scattered balloons. After his speech Kucinich's campaign manager Dot Maver, a peace activist and "healer" with no previous political experience, passed Kucinich a note from which he thanked everyone from a woman who held several house parties in the state to the caterers who provided food for the event.
Performances included a peace rap by the sequin-and-striped-clad Moriah and John, newlywed singers following the campaign around for their honeymoon, and a gospel group wearing yellow and pruple robes led by a man in a preacher's uniform imploring the audience to not buy products from chain stores. In thanking the activists from "Democreation" who've been campaigning for the candidate in a psychadellic van, Kucinich bragged that the New York Times described it as "something right out of the sixties," and received wild applause. At most Kucinich events it seems nothing could make the crowd happier than to be transported back to the Summer of Love.
True to his promise, Kucinich and staff take off for Oklahoma tomorrow to make a play in the Feb.3 state, and will likely stay in the race longer than anyone other than the nominee. Unlike his rivals, Kucinich doesn't have to drop out to save face after poor showings because he has no expectations to meet, and he's raised enough money to continue flying commercially, talking to supporters and keeping his anti-war message on the table.
As New Hampshire campaign director Mary MacArthur told ABC News, "Think of what the candidates were talking about before Dennis got into the race and what they're talking about now. To me, that's all that matters."
A New Sheriff in Town
While certainly not a shake-up, the campaign is changing its media strategy. National press secretary David Swanson, who kept a grueling schedule as the campaign's main spokesperson but who oftentimes had a prickly relationship with the press, has given his two weeks notice.
Replacing him is author and journalist William Rivers Pitt. Pitt, who wrote "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" with former weapons inspector Scott Ritter and who currently edits the website TruthOut.org, was covering Kucinich last week in Iowa. He blended in so well that Kucinich offered him the position, and he will now travel full-time with the candidate. The campaign worries its relationship with the media has been damaged by its previously defensive attitude toward the mainstream press, something they hope Pitt can remedy. As Pitt told ABC News, "There's a new sheriff in town."
Iowa state coordinator Dave Rogers has now been dispatched to head up advance in upcoming contests, and heads to New Mexico tomorrow.
I wasn't able to get through to the media staffers tonight to confrim which ads were running where and what their titles are, but this is the latest info I have: there are two new Kucinich ads began airing Monday 1/26 and address issues of trade and health care. They are airing on Maine stations WGME (CBS), WCSH (NBC), WLBZ (NBC), WABI (CBS), Massachusetts station WHDH (NBC), Oklahoma stations KOTV (CBS), KTUL (ABC), KFOR (NBC), KWTV (CBS), CNN and MTV in Tulsa, CNN and MTV and USA in Oklahoma City, and New Mexico stations KOAT (ABC) and KOBTV (NBC).
Congressman Dennis Kucinich was the only candidate in the 2004 Iowa caucuses to actually come in exactly where he'd been expected to from the start: dead last. But unlike Rep. Gephardt and the other top-tier candidates who will inevitably drop out to save face after disappointing finishes, Kucinich tried to turn Monday night's defeat into a rallying cry for his die-hard following, pledging to take his anti-war campaign all the way to the convention.
Amid the wild cheers of a packed ballroom after the caucus results had come in, a hoarse and red-faced Kucinich employed that special brand of logic unique to him and his supporters - which he terms as optimistic but others might call delusional: "We started off one of nine candidates and were considered to be in ninth place. Because we came to Iowa…because we took this message to Iowa, over a period of 11 months we've moved up from ninth to fifth. We're gonna bring our troops home, we're gonna keep this campaign going, we're gonna go on to New Hampshire, South Carolina, New Mexico, Arizona, to the West, to the North, to the South…we will win at the convention!"
But despite Kucinich's seemingly endless enthusiasm, the Iowa staff couldn't help but seem deflated. The hefty amount of time Kucinich has spent in Iowa essentially rested on the shoulders of only two men, State Political Director John Friedrich and State Coordinator Dave Rogers. Exhausted after the last few days' breakneck pace, Friedrich tried to put a positive spin on the night, saying Kucinich had already outlasted Graham and now Gephardt so therefore could outlast everyone else. It's unclear what role state staffers will play in the continuing campaign.
Kucinich will take an early morning commercial flight to New Hampshire tomorrow, where he will give a "State of the State" speech via live webcast to counter the President's State of the Union. He campaigns in New Hampshire through the primary with the exception of a bus tour around Maine on Wednesday.
Let's Make a Deal
The campaign caused a stir Monday afternoon when it announced publicly that Kucinich and Sen. John Edwards would encourage their supporters to caucus with the other candidate in cases of where each candidate was inviable.
Neither campaign expected to make the plan known, and Kucinich and his staffers had for days denied that they were encouraging any second choices, but word leaked and the campaign felt it necessary to clarify that the agreement did not indicate any plans for him to drop out and endorse Edwards or any other candidate. Though rumored to be a possibility all weekend, the Edwards-Kucinich alliance proves the dictum "politics makes strange bedfellows." Kucinich has always had a warm and friendly relationship with Edwards and his wife Elizabeth, who makes a point to seek the Congressman out for a hug and a smile at group events, but his decision speaks more to his feelings about Dean than it does about Edwards.
Outside a rally in Iowa City Monday, Kucinich said that he and Edwards "both share an optimism…a kind of hope about what kind of country we can have." But Edwards voted for the war, which in Kucinich's eyes is the root of all evil in the Democratic Party. Nor does Edwards have a plan to bring U.S troops home, the cornerstone of Kucinich's candidacy.
So why go with him and not the anti-war Dean? The Kucinich camp has felt for a long time that Dean hasn't reached out to their supporters sufficiently, and that Dean actually alienated them by disbursing fliers and other literature claiming that Dean is the only candidate to have opposed the war from the beginning. In Kucinich's eyes, to imply that he voted for the war by lumping him in with the other candidates is the worst insult one could make. And the Dean campaign's justification that Kucinich isn't one of the candidates Dean is referring to-meaning he doesn't see Kucinich as competition-only makes matters worse.
It's difficult to say how the Edwards arrangement worked out in the end, but Kucinich's Iowa political director John Friedrich told ABC News he knows for a fact that Kucinich supporters helped Edwards at various caucus sites throughout the state.
NEW YORK, Jan. 11 —Outside the convention center last night was where one found the true believers. Aboard what they call the "Magic Bus," a group of supporters from various states had pooled their resources to create what one of them called "an expression of our creativity and our politics." Equipped with bunk beds, a small kitchen and only one heater to brave the freezing temperatures, the group takes such loving care of the tattered, Love Bug-era vehicle that they shooed Congressional Quarterly columnist Craig Crawford off the premises when he started to light up a cigarette. But perhaps it's just a particular kind of smoke the travelers dislike -- Crawford claimed upon exiting that the interior smelled like "a Grateful Dead concert."
Jan. 6 — Rep. Kucinich made some news during the NPR radio debate Tuesday, but not the kind candidates usually hope for. While chiding Gov. Dean for promising to balance the budget without making cuts in what Kucinich calls "the Pentagon's bloated budget," moderator Neal Conan pointed out that "Congressman Kucinich is holding up a pie chart, which is not truly effective on the radio." Kucinich responded, "Well, it's effective if Howard can see it."
Even slight ridicule can be good news for a campaign anxious for media attention, but the coverage gained from the event was not enough. Highly sensitive to the little amount of media coverage there's been of Kucinich in comparison to the top-tier candidates, and angry that NPR correspondent Mara Liasson had failed to mention Kucinich in her report Tuesday morning, the campaign sent out a release telling supporters to flood NPR's newsroom with emails and phone calls in protest, giving out the email addresses and phone numbers of everyone from the assistant producer to the correspondent herself.
AUSTIN, TEXAS, Jan. 4 — The phrase "Kucinich country" doesn't exactly evoke images of the deep heart of Texas, but the state's left-leaning capital city, where tie-dyed-colored bumpers stickers beseech residents to "Keep Austin Weird," did everything it could to change that with its enthusiastic reception of the peace candidate this weekend.
Kucinich had a child-like smile plastered on his face throughout the weekend, aglow with the gathering of his most famous endorsers for the campaign's largest fundraising push yet, and seemingly undeterred by the fact that his poll numbers are so stagnant that the latest Time/CNN survey didn't even bother to name him as a candidate.
Dinner and an auction kicked off the weekend Friday night, with items including signed Doobie Brothers posters, organic food baskets and a two-day course titled "Understanding Yourself and Others" (one attendee quipped loudly that someone should buy the course and give it to George W. Bush) bringing in about $300 apiece. But the main event was the sold-out, 1,600-seat benefit concert Saturday night headlined by Austin's favorite son Willie Nelson and "Queen of the Blues" Bonnie Raitt, with performances by former Doobie Brothers Michael McDonald and Pat Simmonds. Actor and '60s radical James Cromwell and "Dharma and Greg" actress Mimi Kennedy also made several appearances. Event organizer Suzanne Thompson told ABC News that the events, along with as yet uncalculated web donations, raked in approximately $100,000.
Kucinich got a little bit country during the concert, keeping his remarks brief but joining the performers onstage and the frenzied audience at the end for Nelson-led renditions of "I Saw the Light" and "This Little Light of Mine." And despite the cheers the legendary Nelson got for old favorites like "On the Road Again," he got the greatest applause for the anti-war ballad he penned Christmas Day titled "Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth," in which he asks "How much oil is one human life worth?"
The self-proclaimed "live music capital of the world" was abuzz with talk of the candidate's appearance, making it one of the very few cities Kucinich has visited where the majority of people actually know who he is and even actively support him. Scores of local television crews appeared at every event, hardly a regular occurrence for the media-starved Kucinich, and a familiar sight around town was the "Kucinich-mobile," a VW bug belonging to a fuscia-haired local supporter, painted with red and white stripes and blue lettering spelling out Kucinich's key issues and plastered with "We Want the Kooch!" bumper stickers. According to the campaign (but not confirmed by Capitol police), between 800 and 1,000 people turned out to hear the Congressman's fiery anti-war speech on the Capitol steps, which culminated with Kucinich carrying around a small girl waving a rainbow-colored peace banner while the crowd struck up a chorus of "Give Peace a Chance."
Kucinich will continue to press the theme he pounded home in Austin, that this election will be a referendum on Iraq and as the only candidate pledging to get troops out immediately he will emerge victorious, as he spends the next several weeks in Iowa and New Hampshire. He will also tout his most recent fundraising numbers as thrusting him into the stratosphere of the top-tier candidates, which with the approximate 4th quarter earnings of $1.6 million bringing the total to about $5 million, with matching funds eventually pushing the number up to about $9 million.
On the attack
NEW YORK, Dec. 18 — In a speech in Mt. Vernon, Iowa Thursday, Rep. Kucinich beefed up criticism of his fellow candidates for not proposing immediate exit strategies in Iraq, and continued to insist that Saddam Hussein's capture offers the perfect opportunity to get out of Iraq and hand the operation over to the UN.
While he has always singled himself out as the only candidate with a plan to bring U.S. troops home immediately, the speech signifies a new willingness to attack his rivals on the issue. To Kucinich, if it was wrong to go in, it's wrong to stay in, and if the other candidates propose staying in then they're no better than Bush: "Almost all the other presidential candidates are now going along with the Bush Administration's military occupation. That's why I'm here, to tell you there is another voice, and it is a voice that has been consistent and will not be relenting until we get out of Iraq."
Let's give 'em something to talk about
NEW YORK CITY, Dec. 15 — The Kucinich campaign was all aflutter today with the formal announcement that soul/country/rock queen Bonnie Raitt is joining the lineup of a benefit concert on Jan. 3 that already includes "living legend" Willie Nelson, the Dave Matthews Band's Tim Reynolds, and folk singer Michelle Shocked. The concert will take place in hipster music capital of the world Austin, Texas, and is being billed as "an evening of acoustic music" on the countrified poster now dominating the campaign website's homepage.
Though Raitt hasn't officially endorsed Kucinich just yet, her fellow performers may convince her. Nelson has long been a supporter of the campaign based on Kucinich's support for family farmers and has lent his voice to radio ads for Kucinich in Iowa, and Reynolds has taken to wearing his "Kucinich -- A Democrat with Backbone!" T-shirt at concerts and an appearance on "Saturday Night Live." Event organizer Suzanne Thompson said the $45 ticket price was chosen to keep the concert affordable and accessible, but those who want to rub elbows with the stars can do so afterwards for $75 at a special reception.
Kucinich sees capture as further proof it's time to bring troops home
NEW YORK, Dec. 14 — Rep. Kucinich was in Iowa Sunday morning when he found out about Saddam Hussein's capture, and while he was happy to learn Hussein was in custody, he quickly used the opportunity to drive home his belief that the troops should be brought home immediately. In speeches and at a press conference, Kucinich said "the United States must seize this moment and end the occupation of Iraq," and claimed his three-point plan to get U.S. troops out of Iraq in 90 days was more relevant than ever.
While the rest of the world may still be poring over details of Hussein's capture tomorrow, Kucinich will spend much of the day reminiscing over the pivotal political decision of his life: his refusal as Cleveland's mayor in the late '70s to sell the municipal power company to a conglomerate of banks because he believed it would drive up consumers' costs. Once an albatross that banished him from politics for 20 years after the banks plunged the city into default in response, Kucinich now tells the story daily on the trail as an example of his willingness to stand up to corporations on behalf of the comman man no matter what the political consquences.
Kucinich focuses on N.H. and Iraq
Concord, N.H., Dec. 10 — Rep. Kucinich spent Wednesday hop-scotching towns in New Hampshire, his first full day campaigning in the Granite State in several weeks and part of a three-day swing that will be his last visit to the state for the month of December.
Kucinich stuck to his new theory that making Iraq the overwhelming issue on the stump will win him the votes he needs to make a dent in the primary, straying only once from the idea to give a rousing anti-NAFTA speech at the AFL-CIO International Human Rights Day event, where he was forced to wait in the holding room while Howard Dean was squeezed in ahead of him. Unfortunately for Kucinich's staff, the occurrence of Dean sweeping into an event ahead of Kucinich at the last minute is becoming more and more common on the trail.
Kucinich attacks opponents and fellow candidates
DURHAM, N.H., Dec. 10 —Kucinich used the debate to strongly voice the frustration he and his supporters feel on the trail every day -- that the mainstream media focuses on money and polls and ignores substantive issues.
Kucinich was "on," and his staff was thrilled -- finally here was the candidate they know and love and have been waiting to see come out on a national stage. It was a total role reversal; usually the Kucinich staff is so bitter with the networks for (as they see it) cheating Kucinich out of a chance to shine that they've taken to preemptively e-mailing the relevant network with complaints before the debate even starts.
Shrugging it off
NEW YORK, Dec. 8 — Kucinich chose not to respond personally to Gore's endorsement of Dean, but his campaign manager Dot Maver not surprisingly tried to give it a positive spin, saying she is "delighted that Al Gore is returning to the political arena and will be a strong voice for change. I look forward to working closely with both Al and Howard after we win the nomination."
The Kucinich campaign may well be one of the few for whom the Gore endorsement really isn't a major blow, since Kucinich could have never expected to get it in the first place and therefore it's not a disappointment. To Kucinich supporters, who feel the two parties have merged into one big receptacle for special interest money, an endorsement from Gore is nothing to brag about.
Kucinich had hoped for five hours of debate prep time but it's now been scaled back to about three or four, and Kucinich has turned down media interviews to maximize it.
Kucinich brings 'em in from the cold
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA., Dec. 7 — At the Florida convention Saturday, Kucinich had the dubious distinction of not only being the last speaker at an all-day event running an hour and a half late, but also following a rousing speech by Howard Dean. Like a rock concert audience after the stadium lights have finally come up and the encores have finished, the crowd (and the media) filed out in droves as soon as Dean left the room.
The crowd that was left, about a fourth of the original size and full of Kucinich supporters and others wearing Dean T-shirts, gave him a raucous reception. The Kucinitzens stood out as usual as the most creatively dressed supporters at these group events (well, Howard Dean's scrub-wearing fans may have beaten them this time). Many sported brightly colored feather boas and cut-out paper masks with Kucinich's likeness on them, and one excitedly clanged away on a washboard with Kucinich' picture on top.
Even more than usual, Rep. Kucinich railed vociferously against the Iraq war this weekend at events in Iowa, Orlando and New York City. While Iraq has always been the key to his platform, he focused almost exclusively on it and with a great sense of urgency and anger in Iowa, where he hopes to convince voters to send a message about getting out of Iraq by voting for him in the caucuses.
Kucinich has also taken to criticizing Bush more harshly on Afghanistan and is calling for a Congressional investigation of the recent American air attack there that killed nine children.
Kucinich brings 'em in from the cold
NEW YORK, Dec. 4 — Rep. Dennis Kucinich had an action-packed day in Michigan and Wisconsin Thursday, hopscotching from Ann Arbor to East Lansing to Detroit to Milwaukee. Kucinich's Michigan staff was thrilled with the higher than expected turnouts at the events despite cold weather and impending finals at the universities. State Coordinator Bob Alexander claims his candidate has such a far-reaching Michigan organization that the Dean campaign is reacting by organizing more vigilantly. But despite Alexander's dedication and enthusiasm, Kucinich may have cause for concern about his track record. Of the primary campaigns Alexander has worked for since 1975, only Michael Dukakis actually went on to become the nominee.
If He Can Make It There...
NEW YORK, Dec. 2 — Perhaps it was the sleek, modern art-filled loft office space overlooking Bryant Park where he gave a speech to supporters, complete with multiple reporters competing to get their questions in with cameras flashing (usually only ABC News and perhaps local outlets are represented at similarly sized events).
Or maybe it was the cocktail reception honoring the Cornerstone Campaign, a group dedicated to warning the public about genetically engineered food, full of well-heeled New Yorkers who came to hear him speak at the swanky downtown restaurant Blue Hill.
Or it could have been the primetime stop at local cable channel New York 1's funky Chelsea offices for his interview on "Inside City Hall," where he brushed shoulders with Manhattan political heavyweights Ed Koch and Al D'Amato.
Whatever it was, Rep. Kucinich had a smile on his face as he took a bite out of the Big Apple Tuesday. For a brief moment the campaign took on the more mainstream feel of the operations his top-tier rivals are running as the Congressman wooed New York voters, quite a contrast to the hippie vibe that permeates most Kucinich events elsewhere in the country.
Flanked by local labor leaders at his speech at the "Just Voices" studio in midtown, Kucinich (whose hair was mussed with parts sticking straight up after delivering an impassioned speech on Iraq) tried to deflect attention from the fact that many of the major unions had endorsed Gephardt and Dean over him, despite his having the most labor-friendly policies by far with his plans to cancel NAFTA and the WTO and to provide universal health care.
At a press conference after the event Kucinich told ABC News sarcastically, "It's a real credit to [Gephardt and Dean] that notwithstanding their being for the WTO and against universal health care, they still got the endorsements." But Kucinich, refusing to say whether he was passed over because of a perceived lack of electability, made a point to refer to those endorsements as the results of decisions made by labor leaders and not the rank and file, whom he insists support him and his platform wholeheartedly.
CLEVELAND, OHIO, DEC. 1 — Kucinich was in a confident and bubbly mood at events in his hometown of Cleveland Monday, including a fundraiser attended by everyone from the guy who's printed Kucinich's election materials for all of his campaigns to the signature A-team, a group of diehard senior citizens who have been volunteering for Kucinich since he was mayor. At the event, Kucinich spoke from atop a chair and implored the enthusiastic crowd to work toward winning the Ohio primary, not exactly a sure thing for the four-term Congressman. One can tell he enjoys being surrounded by those who have known and supported him throughout his career, despite its many pitfalls. One such friend is John Ryan, the executive secretary of the Cleveland AFL-CIO, who has known Kucinich his entire political life.
Ryan sheds some light on the question almost every non-supporter asks about Kucinich, often with disdain: "Does this guy really think he can win?" To Ryan, the answer became clear on a road trip in Iowa at the very start of the campaign, on which Ryan joined Kucinich to help introduce him to local labor leaders. Ryan got a call that his mother died unexpectedly, and says Kucinich switched off politics entirely to attend to him, telling him a story about his own mother. "He told me his mother had last rites read to her seven times, and in those days you don't get the last rites read until it's really time to go." Suddenly Kucinich's persistence in the face of overwhelming odds against him made sense to Ryan, who went on to cite the unlikely local victories he and Kucinich had fought for over the years, including reopening closed hospitals and steel mills.
But even Ryan admits the odds in this race might be too much to overcome, and speculates that if Kucinich does better than expected he might be able to make a run for the Governor's seat or for Senate, but that if he does as poorly as the polls show, he will not have helped himself for any big future runs.
Dec. 1 — Rep. Kucinich enjoyed a warm welcome Saturday night as the only presidential candidate to speak to the Council on American Islamic Relations in Tysons Corner, Va. The 1,000-plus crowd gave the Congressman standing ovations for his vehement comments condemning the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, and for being the only candidate appearing in person to address the group, which has come under fire for having possible ties to terrorist groups. Said the emcee in his introduction to Kucinich's keynote speech, "General Clark sent CAIR a letter, but we see who's actually here in person to talk to you." And in a signal that Arabic may be the new Spanglish for politicians wooing the ethnic group, Kucinich started his speech with greetings in Arabic and was received with hearty applause.
But outside the ballroom the praise was more muted, with attendees echoing the same refrains often heard at Kucinich events. A CAIR member listening to Kucinich's speech told ABC News, "People like him and think he's a straight shooter, but it's the age-old dilemma … .do you vote to make a statement or do you vote to win?"
Gobble gobble? Not so much
Rep. Kucinch told ABC News he spent Thanksgiving with friends in California, who cooked for him a vegan feast of wild rice, cranberries, boiled carrots and grapes ("It was really good!" he swore), and vegetable salad, with no tofurkey in sight. From California he flew to New Hampshire to campaign Friday and then to Washington to spend the weekend.
Aspiring wives continue to campaign
Nov. 20 — While Rep. Kucinich had a quiet day off the trail voting in Washington, the PoliticsNH.com Web site was busy as ever. Perhaps the new batch of women was inspired by "The Bachelor" finale last night, but suddenly there are 80 entries now clocking in for the "Who wants to be a First Lady?" contest. Cathleen from Silver City, N.M. used the picture section to superimpose her face onto the farmer's wife on the American Gothic mock photo from the home page. PoliticsNH.com hasn't announced yet when they'll start the polling, but Web readers should be able to cast their votes within the next few weeks. Kucinich will join the lucky winner for dinner in the Granite State.
Kucinich supports gay marriage
Nov. 19 — Rep. Kucinich didn't attend the AARP forum on Tuesday, but he did comment on the gay marriage decision. Kucinich, who supports gay marriage (only fellow underdogs Sharpton and Moseley Braun go that far), said, "This is a basic issue of civil rights. The Democratic party should be behind civil rights for everyone, including gays. This is not something to compromise on or to take halfway steps on or to make political calculations about. This is a question of people's basic civil rights."
But despite his unequivocal support of gay marriage, Kucinich hasn't gotten formal endorsements from the major GLBT groups, although he does get very warm receptions from them. It's somewhat familiar to the Kucinich campaign. The same type of situation arises with unions, who would seem a natural fit for his stance on canceling NAFTA and the WTO, but instead their endorsements have gone to candidates like Dean and Gephardt.
A brief stop in New Mexico
Nov. 18 — Rep. Kucinich spoke to the National Congress of Native Americans Monday morning in Albuquerque, focusing on sovereignty for Native American nations, the Iraq situation and the overall need for "healing" in the country, which Kucinich likes to refer to as "repairing the breach" between races when speaking about racial tensions. The Iraq war was heavy on the audience's minds, as the Congress said special prayers for the two Native Americans who have died in the war so far, one of them being Lori Piestewa, a member of the now-famously ambushed 507 who was Jessica Lynch's best friend.
Although Kucinich was not the only candidate to speak at the event, he might be the only one to regularly include Native American tribal dances and rituals in many of his day-to-day campaign events; on his announcement tour almost every event was kicked off with tribal dances in which he often participated. He appeared touched by the gifts several supporters gave him, including a vessel filled with ashes a group of women prayed over and gave him to plant for himself, as well as a tribal blanket.
The Bachelor, Presidential Candidate-Style
The number of entrants on PoliticsNH.com vying for a chance at a date with Kucinich has jumped to a whopping 39, with only two days left for women to enter. The new entries provide a fresh batch of unique admirers, including a 21-year-old art student and activist who posted a picture of herself spattered in fake blood protesting the war, and whose personal statement reads in part, "i (sic) was very depressed about the options for president until i (sic) heard about him and he seemed to good to be true because he has my politics. i (sic) would love to have a date with dennis (sic). okay, so i'm (sic) a little young, but we are all leftists here, let's not be ageists!"
Or maybe he'd like Christine, a 47-year-old who wants to create a "Love Nest" and convert the Rose Garden into an organic vegetable garden. The last chance to enter is midnight on Wednesday, with "polling" beginning shortly thereafter to decide who gets dinner with Kucinich.
The two faces of Kucinich
Nov. 17 — Like most politicians, Rep. Kucinich has an ability to put on one face for a particular group of supporters and switch to another face for a different group, specifically when it comes to courting such extremes as the affluent, Bohemian communities of Northern California and the struggling, blue-collar farm towns of Iowa. And so this weekend Kucinich swapped the new-age, spiritual guru of last weekend to become the straight-talking, hard-scrabble kid from Cleveland, storming through Iowa in a six-day swing shouting his anti-war, anti-NAFTA message to local labor halls and college campuses throughout the state. His supporters' fervor appears to be similar no matter how different their backgrounds; the Kucinich voter, though small in number, is always die-hard.
Kucinich spent the weekend trying to distinguish himself from the rest of the pack by highlighting his commitments to bringing the troops home from Iraq, to canceling NAFTA and the WTO, and to providing universal health care, encouraging people to shoot for the "fundamental change" he envisions instead of settling for the more mainstream candidates. He had some of his harshest words yet for the Bush administration, calling them "totally corrupt" and "like a criminal enterprise."
And Kucinich has decided to go full force when it comes to comparing the current Iraq war to Vietnam. He continues to bring up at every stop a question the other candidates left at the New Hampshire Planned Parenthood forum, that of whether there should be a draft for 18-year-old women, which Kucinich uses as an example to warn crowds that a new draft is imminent if we continue on our path in Iraq. At a speech to a group of postal workers in Waterloo, he told an off-the-cuff story harking back to his days as a Cleveland Plain Dealer copy boy who had to go on "art runs" to pick up pictures from dead soldiers' families during Vietnam. On his way out of the event he said "I think I'll use that tonight," and a modified version appeared in his speech at the JJ dinner (where he was seen palling around with Teresa Heinz Kerry), with variations popping up at the rest of the weekend's events.
At Kucinich's last event of the weekend, a speech to the local UAW in Cedar Rapids last night, a still-on-the-fence voter summed up the dilemma Kucinich faces. Guy Geinzer, a laid-off sheetmetal worker and union member from Lisbon, Iowa, signed up to support Kerry a year and a half ago before Kucinich got in the race because Kerry seemed to him to be the most electable. He told ABC News, "I first heard Kucinich the first weekend he campaigned in Iowa and he really inspired me. People are going to Dean because he says the things people want to hear, but I've seen him speak 8 or 9 times and he's not sincere. He's a fake. Kerry doesn't have the charisma to draw people. Many Kerry supporters come up to me and say 'I really like that little guy from Ohio.' I believe that if we came out and caucused with what was in our hearts, Kucinich would come in second or third." If he had to vote in the caucus tomorrow, who would he go with? "In my heart of hearts, Kucinich." But the stigma of un-electability prevents Geinzer from fully committing, despite the large Kucinich button he wears on his jeans jacket.
Nov. 13 — Either Kucinich is gaining in popularity or the PoliticsNH.com Webmaster finally got around to adding those other entries to the site. There are now 16 entrants to the site's "Who Wants to be a First Lady?" contest, eight times the number from a few days ago. The descriptions range from the serious (a woman who was inspired to enter because her family fled dictatorship, she suffers from a disability and she's witnessed layoffs at her company) to the superficial (a 28-year-old Ivy League graduate who wants the free trip to New Hampshire to visit her parents) to the just plain bizarre (a woman who claims her astrologer Madame Lee says Kucinich is a Libra-Dog so they'll be "great friends and lovers"). The campaign still says no dice to participating, but if it keeps growing at this rate Kucinich might not have a choice but to agree to meet the lucky winner.
Not to be confused with the contestants, the band Barenaked Ladies has endorsed Kucinich. Singer/guitarist Steven Page rants on his blog: "Why does even the left-wing media say things like 'Howard Dean is the most progressive option for the Democrats (besides Kucinich)?' This occurs in both the Progressive and the Nation's current issues. It's time to take Dennis Kucinich out of the brackets and treat him as the viable and believable candidate he is." Too bad the band is Canadian.
Kucinich faces insurance employees
Nov. 12 — Rep. Kucinich, who never gives a speech without bashing insurance companies (signature line: "Insurance companies make money NOT providing health care") and touting his plan for a universal single-payer system, took the unusual step Tuesday of speaking to a group of employees at the Principal Companies, a huge insurance company known in Des Moines simply as "The Principal."
Though the crowd was cordial and there were several supporters present, including one who works for Principal and volunteers for the campaign, Kucinich finally got the question everyone was anticipating: "This is an insurance company that provides millions of people with health care plans. What happens to us if there's a single-payer system, and how are you so sure Medicare for all will work when it often doesn't work now?"
Kucinich, whose tone was the calm and deferential one reserved for appearances he makes when introducing himself to undecided voters (as opposed to the fiery battle cries he delivers to avowed supporters), tried to appease the audience by explaining that with the new system the government would need workers with the skill set of the insurance company employees, so there would be a place for them, and that although they might not be happy with the results of the single-payer system, his presidency would work to reduce environmental damage that he says costs the insurance industry money because of the higher number of claims being processed.
It's a tough sell in insurance industry-heavy Des Moines, even among Democrats like the questioner. The logic is essentially, elect me and my health care policy will shut you down, but there might be fewer beach erosion housing claims in 50 years.
While not convinced, the man who asked the question seemed pleased that Kucinich didn't dodge it, and Kucinich thanked him for asking it, as he always does when faced with more confrontational queries The Congressman spent the rest of the day visiting with veterans at the Des Moines Veterans Hospital and giving speeches at Drake University and Grandview College.
As for the latest shake-ups in the Kerry campaign, Kucinich took the Dean line, saying with a chuckle "I can hardly keep track of what's going on with own staff … .I couldn't comment on another campaign."
Kucinich fields marriage proposals
Nov. 11 — Rep. Kucinich has had an interesting week since Wednesday night's joke about looking for a special someone to join him in the White House. He told ABC News, "I've been getting marriage proposals slipped to me! One woman at the rally in Bellingham Friday had a huge sign that said 'Marry Me.'"
The Congressman seems genuinely surprised and amused at the response, and for now is unsure whether he'll pay any heed to the PoliticsNH.com contest trying to find him a mate, wary of detracting from the seriousness of the candidacy while intrigued by the opportunity for the publicity his campaign craves.
Over dinner at the Minneapolis airport en route to Des Moines (hot water with lemon, two pieces of dry wheat toast accompanied by his ever-present plastic bag of granola), Kucinich went on to talk about how difficult it is to maintain a relationship with the schedule of a Congressman-cum-presidential-candidate, but that he would absolutely be open to having more children: "I'm in great health and I absolutely love kids." Kucinich has a daughter Jackie, 21, with whom he is very close but who does not appear on the campaign trail.
But whatever void a lack of romance may leave, perhaps campaign cash can fill it. Kucinich had a special spring in his step Monday due to some fundraising success last weekend in the Bay Area, which brought in around $100,000. He wrapped up the trip with a press conference and speech to students at San Francisco State University on sustainable energy, calling for a national commitment to creating renewable energies akin to the nation's devotion to the space program during the Kennedy administration.
On the endorsement watch, Kucinich has picked up actor Joaquin Phoenix, actress Shelley Morrison (Rosario on "Will & Grace"), and Dave Mathews Band drummer Tim Reynolds. Possible endorsements coming down the pipe include actor Casey Affleck (brother of Ben) and perhaps the entire Dave Matthews Band. Willie Nelson has scheduled a benefit concert for Kucinich in Austin on Jan. 3. According to the AP, "The Ohio congressman, a long shot in the Democratic race, outpaces his eight rivals in endorsements from the entertainment industry."
Kucinich will appear with veterans at his events tomorrow and will visit Des Moines' Veterans Hospital tomorrow in honor of the holiday.
Kucinich campaign appeals to base
Nov. 10 — 7:30 pm Welcome to Temple and Evening
8:00 pm Invocation, Meditation and Prayer
8:40 pm: Performance of "Tantric Gospel" by the Radical Spirit Band
11:00 pm Collective Visualization Process
You might be thinking we've mistakenly printed the evening schedule at Canyon Ranch, but no, it's just some of the program notes from Dennis Kucinich's Saturday night fundraiser at a private home in Marin County. And you won't find any un-p.c., manifest destiny-tinged titles like "Pioneers" among this group. Organizers described fundraising levels as Prophets ($2,000), Trailblazers ($1,000), Visionaries ($500), Change Agents ($250), and Soul Allies ($100).
So if Kucinich-watchers ever had any question as to whether the Congressman is actually into all that so-called "new age" stuff, they need look no further than the last two days, where Kucinich spoke like a spiritual guru trapped in the suit-wearing body of a politician throughout a jam-packed schedule of speeches and fundraisers in Seattle, Marin County and Santa Cruz.
While Seattle offered the usual fare of well-received, populist-themed speeches to audiences like U Dubb students, King County Democrats (Washington Senator Patty Murray also spoke but did not appear with or mention Kucinich), and local labor groups, the bay area events felt more like a Berkeley class of '69 reunion, with the campus green replaced by sprawling homes built into the cliffs of Marin County. To the attendees of Saturday night's fundraiser, where guests took their shoes off at the door and asked questions like "How do we bridge the paradigms?" Kucinich is a dream candidate who speaks their language. Indeed, the Congressman sprinkled his usual stump speech with enough new age flavor it seemed he might start to meditate right there, with such passages as, "A singer speaks that we are all made of stars. The concepts of [names three philosophers I couldn't determine] all speak to the energy of the stars being within us, and we then are also of the energy of the stars." When speaking about inner knowledge later on, he said to event host (and former Timothy Leary cohort) Ram Dass, "On my way here I could hear you calling me."
But if Kucinich got a warm welcome in Marin, it was outdone in Santa Cruz, where crowds at folk singer Michelle Shocked's benefit concert screamed out "We love you!" and pamphlets on world peace, ecological harmony and veganism sat alongside campaign materials. As the Santa Cruz Sentinel says, the area is "Kucinich country": the city council recently voted for a resolution to impeach President Bush.
Kucinich tried out several new themes this weekend. Using his anger over Democratic candidates' answers at last week's Planned Parenthood forum that they'd support the draft for 18-year-old women as a teeing-off point, Kucinich warned his Vietnam-sensitive baby boomer audiences about new recruitments for draft boards across the country, and insisted the draft be eliminated altogether. And while never admitting he might not win the nomination, he encouraged supporters to donate despite concerns about his electability because he's the only one who can "keep the other candidates honest," referring not-so-subtlely to Dean's backpedaling on campaign finance. Also, Kucinich's childhood keeps getting tougher and tougher. Taking a page from John Edwards, he is now speaking in depth about his impoverished childhood in Cleveland to prove he can connect with voters. In Santa Cruz yesterday he revealed that hearing gunshots day and night was routine in his neighborhood, and that as a five-year-old he suffered from a terrible stutter.
But perhaps the most prevalent theme of the weekend was singing. Kucinich has taken to joining in on the performances by local supporters who kick off his speeches at every stop, including renditions of "To Dream the Impossible Dream," campaign theme song "Imagine" (sung at one event by a 15-year-old girl on stilts wearing a blue shimmery dress and an Uncle Sam hat) and "This Little Light of Mine."
Calling out on opting out
Nov. 7 — Congressman Kucinich is spinning Dean's flirtation with opting out as proof that under the sheep's clothing of a radical reformer, people will see a wolf just as susceptible to corporate interests as Bush and the other Democratic candidates, with Kucinich left standing as the only true progressive untainted by corporate donations.
In a statement Kucinich said, "Howard Dean has called for the people to take back America. His attempt to kill public financing will take back America — for the corporations … By ending his commitment to public financing, Dean unwittingly supports the worst fears of the American people that there's really no difference between Democrats and Republicans on the most critical issues affecting the very nature of our democracy. We all know that the current campaign finance system is not perfect. But the answer is not to roll back three decades of progress and return to pre-Watergate standards."
The campaign has even put a mock-up of Dean's posters on its homepage saying "Welcome Former Dean Supporters" with the altered tag line of "The Doctor is Out" at the top (LINK).
As for Dean's imminent coup of SEIU and AFSCME endorsements, Kucinich would only say he hopes that it means Dean is moving toward supporting universal single payer healthcare.
Kucinich talks about finding a running mate
Nov. 6 — In a first for his campaign, Rep. Kucinich may just have been the most talked about candidate in the spin room last night after the Planned Parenthood Candidates Forum in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Responding to the question about what role the candidates' significant others would play in their administrations, the twice-divorced Kucinich had a bit of fun with the notion of being a bachelor president: "Maybe Fox wants to sponsor a national contest!" Over the roar of laughter, Kucinich went on to describe his perfect mate: dynamic, outspoken, dedicated to world peace and universal single payer health care (more laughs from the audience). He finished off with "If you're out there, call me!"
After the forum, when asked if the campaign was setting up an 800 line or Web site section to field potential suitors, Kucinich laughed and told ABC News "I don't think anyone's going to call." Staffers were just happy their boss finally let his guard down and showed his sense of humor, often on full display at more intimate speeches but usually buttoned up at formal group events like debates.
Kucinich also talked about being a dedicated father to his daughter Jackie despite his divorce from her mother, and said he carries a picture of her with him and keeps it on the podium to remind him of his "responsibility to her."