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Mary McGrory

The Parade for President

By Mary McGrory
Sunday, February 23, 2003; Page B07

Some people take cruises to avoid the February blahs. Democrats run for president.

Three more Democrats announced last week, bringing the total to eight candidates, with three more milling about in the wings. (Bob Graham of Florida, just up from heart surgery, is making the appropriate noises; Joe Biden of Delaware is going through "to be or not to be," and Gen. Wesley Clark, the handsome and articulate Kosovo commander, drew a flurry of attention when he asked mordant questions about George Bush's foreign policy priorities on "Meet the Press.") There may be more.

_____More McGrory_____
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None of them, singly or collectively, causes Karl Rove any heartburn.

Carol Moseley-Braun, formerly the Senate's only African American female member, has the most clearly defined objective. She seems to be out to stop Al Sharpton, who hoped to be sole black contender. Moseley-Braun is a vivacious and engaged politician from Chicago who left the Senate under a cloud -- she was accused of appropriating campaign funds for personal use -- so she is not expected to take a holier-than-thou approach with Sharpton.

He has perfected the art of being obnoxious, and he lectures people who question him about his checkered past. Who knows -- maybe the lady could inspire the timid white men in the pack to speak up and question Sharpton's screaming unfitness to be chief executive.

Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri caused no sleepless nights at the White House when he proclaimed his availability. Terminally earnest, he announced as his goal the enactment of a "global minimum wage," hardly a grabber in these times.

The third new face belongs to Dennis Kucinich, and only if the White House fears a genuine populist does he appear to be a threat. Last week in Iowa, he brought an AFL-CIO meeting to its feet by promising to run a "workers' White House." Those who know him do not doubt he would bring it about, either. He is a truck driver's son from Cleveland, and he never forgets it. When, at 31, he was elected mayor of his native city, he rapidly became known as "Dennis the Menace" for his plain talk and his stunts, such as standing on railroad tracks to protest a rail merger. He was defeated after a bruising fight with local corporations about the sale of an electric power plant. They got even with him for his refusal to sell it.

Kucinich's campaign headquarters is the Internet, which keeps him in touch with peaceniks, who idolize him for his searing speeches against the war. He says that the Internet is a money-raiser as well and that there are Democrats who want to revive what the late Sen. Paul Wellstone called "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." Kucinich is chairman of the Progressive Caucus in the House, and he rallied the 126 Democrats who voted against the war resolution, which all Senate presidential hopefuls endorsed.

His antiwar rival is former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who also realizes that Iraq may be history by the time of next year's New Hampshire primary.

Iraq haunts John Kerry of Massachusetts, who is recovering from prostate surgery. Kerry, a decorated war hero who led the most moving antiwar demonstration of the Vietnam era, voted for the green-light-for-Bush resolution on Iraq. He said publicly that he did so because of private reassurances by Secretary of State Colin Powell of U.N. collaboration. Leftists said it was a calculated, self-preserving move to show that despite an anti-Persian Gulf War vote in 1991, he would be a commander in chief who would use force if necessary.

Kerry's standing has shifted since the melodramatic revelations in the Boston Globe that, although in Massachusetts' boisterous ethnic politics he was passing as Irish, he had Jewish grandparents. This item has considerably complicated the outlook for Joe Lieberman, who expected to be the only Jewish candidate in the race.

A move by Sen. Ted Kennedy to offer a new resolution in Congress on the war question -- thus giving a second chance to Democrats who voted for the Iraq policy but now grumble about it -- was greeted with horror. Democrats are still terrified to stand up to the commander in chief.

The White House has sent a signal that it is keeping close tabs on Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a legendary trial lawyer, who is demonstrably the fastest on his feet of any of the contenders. Some thought this was a red herring, calculated to give Edwards the limelight when the administration is about to open fire on trial lawyers as the source of all evil in the health care system.

At their annual meeting, the Democratic National Committee members had a chance to watch a parade of the possibles at the Hyatt Regency.

All of them insist that Bush -- what with the mess in the markets, unemployment on the rise, the coddling of the plutocrats and the wall-to-wall warmongering -- is vulnerable.

Beatable, however, is another story.


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