DENNIS J. KUCINICH
The Liberal: Dennis J. Kucinich
Running for president a second time after collecting few votes in 2004, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio) continues calling for a single-payer health-care system that covers all Americans, and for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
And he still languishes in the polls. It probably doesn't help that the most memorable moment in his 2008 run was when he said he saw a UFO. In a debate in Philadelphia in October, he answered, "I did," when asked if he had a seen a UFO while visiting a friend, the actress Shirley MacLaine. The biggest change in his stump appearance from 2004 has been the presence of his 30-year-old wife, Elizabeth, who is 31 years younger and a good bit taller than the longtime congressman. She also brings hope to his long-shot candidacy.
"If I can marry this incredibly brilliant, beautiful woman, I mean, why wouldn't I think I can be president of the United States?" Kucinich has said.
In single digits in the polls, Kucinich has sought to cast himself as having the foresight that his rivals lacked in 2002, repeatedly noting in the debates that he was the only candidate to vote against the war in Iraq and that he has consistently opposed funding it. The rest of the Democratic field either voted for the war or, like Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), opposed it from outside Congress. Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) both started voting against war-funding bills only in the midst of their White House campaigns. Kucinich's rhetoric against free-trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement -- which President Clinton pushed through Congress in 1993, but which now draws criticism from even Clinton's wife -- has been adopted by the leading candidates.
Still, none of his 2008 rivals or fellow Democrats in Congress has embraced Kucinich's latest liberal cause: the impeachment of Vice President Cheney. Arguing that Cheney gave misleading claims in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2002 and about Iran this year, he said in April that the "vice president's conduct of office has been destructive to the founding purposes of our nation."
Democratic House leaders have opposed Kucinich's push, even as he sought a vote on the measure in November. Kucinich's call for a "Department of Peace" also remains a lonely cause.
In Iowa, where the 2008 campaign has been intensely waged on the Democratic side, the Des Moines Register excluded Kucinich from a recent debate, noting that he did not have full-time paid staff in the state. But for the second straight election, Iowa Democrats will have the chance to vote for the former mayor of Cleveland, an achievement in itself for Kucinich. Iowa is a difficult state to campaign in if you are a vegan.
-- Perry Bacon Jr.