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.