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Dennis Kucinich, Still Waiting to Be Called On

Kucinich eventually gets to finish his thought about health care, but the electoral process, such as it is, has once again boxed him off, set him aside, understood his logic, deemed him unelectable: "Let's turn to Iraq," King says, which would be great for Kucinich. It's his favorite subject and one on which he's made his grandest stand against the tides of war, injustice, lies. But Los Angeles Times reporter Janet Clayton, a debate moderator, begins: "Senators Edwards and Kerry . . . "

And so continues the addressing of the pertinent proper names of the evening. "Senator Kerry," King says, "Senator Edwards?" ("John and John," Kucinich says, when allowed to speak.) "Senator Edwards," Clayton says, "Senator Edwards," the Los Angeles Times's Ronald Brownstein says, followed by many more sentences that begin "Senator Kerry."

Dennis Kucinich, left, and Al Sharpton try to draw some attention away from Sens. John Edwards and John Kerry during Thursday's debate in California. (Charles Krupa -- AP)

Only as a courtesy does it come back to the little guy on the end, who, when and if they'll say his name, is more frequently just Dennis.

In his less-than-influential orbit, Kucinich wins something besides numbers: He is the average Joe who has not yet been eliminated by the efficiently fickle American beauty, and so you find yourself rooting for him even as you haven't a clue why anyone would commit to him. You can't explain it; he's cute that way.

The drummers and dancers and singers and saxophone player are outside the auditorium, those lovable, uncynical passengers on the multihued Democreation school bus. These are Kucinich's people, though he is not exactly like them. He's more than twice their age. He got no groove. (But, "He isn't afraid of color," the current GQ notes, fashion-wise: "How many men who are perceived as being on the far left would wear a very pink shirt? Kucinich is no fashion victim. He's a little guy with potential for independent nattiness.") Not every candidate can bring his own antiwar Partridge Family wherever he goes. To be Dennis Kucinich, and to be for him, is to be unfazed by the threat of marginalization. You simply roll with it. They talk about his ideas, his honesty: "The others aren't for as drastic a change as Dennis is," says Kerry Garner, a 24-year-old neuro-stress reliever from Arizona who rode the bus earlier Thursday from San Francisco, who says she got involved a little late in all this. "We've gotten so far off-track as a country. The rest of the world is massively disappointed in us."

At the end of the debate, the Kucinich kids are still drumming, hoping the candidate will drop by to see them. (There is supposed to be a rally in a classroom in the campus building that houses USC's school of social work, but no one is there.) The candidate is still trapped in the post-debate spin room, where he will be reported in yesterday's Los Angeles Times to have been gripped in the massive arms of actor Ed Asner, in a sort of ritual expression of the way California loves to bear-hug a lost-cause candidate. (Fourteen thousand votes for Gary Coleman last October can't be all wrong.) Was he angry at King for not listening to him? Did he feel like he was treated with respect tonight?

"It's what James Brown said," the congressman says. "I feel good."

"Do you know if he's coming out here?" asks a woman on the sidewalk, Sarah Sue Roberts, 28. A USC theater alum, she works in a Los Angeles health club and writes movie scripts, or hopes to. She's come around to Kucin . . . well, Dennis. "My brother is in the Navy," Roberts says. "Out there somewhere, I don't even know. I want our troops home."

She's one of several women out here tonight who even think there's sex appeal in the diminutive 57-year-old vegan congressman, who earlier in the day turned them on by issuing a statement calling on Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan to resign.

"Yeah, I would go on a date with him," Roberts says of the bachelor candidate. There's something attractive, she says, about a man who won't quit.

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