Oh, sure, everyone knows the big issues in this year's presidential race -- national security and terrorism, the economy and health care. But what about the least important issues?

Researchers at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles asked 100 presidential scholars from universities and think tanks to rank 30 campaign issues in order of their importance to voters this fall. The 10 most important issues were what you might expect -- Iraq, taxes and tax policy, jobs, the "character" of the two major candidates, etc.

But the issues ranked at the bottom of the list give some idea of how social and cultural concerns have faded, at least in the minds of the pointy-heads who were surveyed. "Racial equality" ranked 21st, "affirmative action" ranked 25th and "poverty" came in 29th. "Corporate ethics and governance" pulled in 22nd, while "crime," "gun control" and "global warming" finished 23rd, 27th and 28th, respectively.

The least important issue among the 30 choices? "Helping developing countries."

LMU's Matthew Streb, a co-conductor of the survey, said the results reinforce the notion that only a handful of major issues will count this fall. "More than any recent presidential election I can remember, this election is really about fewer, although extremely important, issues," he said.

One Left Standing

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, the second-to-last candidate standing, finally threw his support to Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). Yes, the Ohio liberal didn't have all that much support, but he did have a following among far-left voters who Democrats don't want running off to Ralph Nader in the fall.

In fact, let's give Kucinich his props. For a candidate written off as a no-hoper and worse (remember those references to "Rep. Moonbeam"), Kucinich didn't do all that badly. His campaign raised $11.9 million and won about 70 delegates (out of 4,322 available) -- more than Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and Al Sharpton picked up combined. Granted, Kucinich won about 50 of those delegates in primaries held after Kerry had wrapped up the nomination in early March. But as campaign manager Dot Maver puts it, after Kerry had the nomination sewn up, "people were free to vote their hearts."

So what is Kucinich getting in return for his long run and loyalty to his party? Answer: not much.

Kucinich supporters were able to add some language to the party's convention platform affirming that the United States will reduce its military presence in Iraq as other nations contribute troops. But Kucinich's big issues -- creating a "Department of Peace," an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the creation of a single-payer universal health care program, getting out of NAFTA and the WTO -- are nowhere to be found in the platform.

In the end, Koose simply didn't have the juice. Kucinich had only two votes (out of 186) in the platform debate. As former Kucinich assistant campaign manager Charles Lenchner put it, "We were outgunned."

Kucinich may get some parting gifts, however. The campaign certainly raised his profile, which should help his reelection chances in his Cleveland district this fall and, possibly, in a run for Senate in 2006.

Anti-Spoiler Internazionale

The Stop Ralph movement has gone international. The Italian Daisies are on the bus.

Liberal opponents of Nader's third-party candidacy received the following letter last week, presented here only slightly edited:

"Dear Sir: I'm writing to you from the press office of Democrazia e Liberta -- La Margherita (The Daisy), a prominent Italian center-left party (in 2001 last general elections, the Daisy scored the third place among Italian parties, either on the right or on the left).

"One of our MPs, the environmentalist Ermete Realacci, decided some weeks ago to promote an open letter to Ralph Nader, asking him not to run for the White House. The letter is signed by more than a hundred of Italian MPs and party leaders from the center-left (Democrats of the Left, Greens, Social Democrats, Daisies and so on) strongly committed to see John Kerry as the next President of the United States of America.

"As the letter says 'we too care so much about the United States of America . . . we ask you (Ralph) today not to give George W. Bush a second chance at such great a price for the international community.'

"I'd like to know if there's a chance to publish and circulate this open letter. . . . I'm confident you will appreciate our letter as a useful contribute from Europe to your political debate and to Kerry/Edwards' campaign heading to the forthcoming Boston Democratic Convention (someone of our MPs will be there from 26th of July).

"Please let me know asap what's your opinion about all this stuff.

"Best regards . . . Filippo Sensi, Press Office, La Margherita."

Staff writer Dana Milbank contributed to this report.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) listens to an endorsement by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), the second-to-last candidate left standing, in Detroit on Thursday.