Staying afloat

Kucinich supporters won’t give up the ship
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  January 16, 2008

For years, Dennis Kucinich has compared himself to the come-from-behind racehorse Seabiscuit, vowing to shock political spectators with unforeseen victories in his so far ill-fated presidential campaigns.

This month, both Mike Huckabee and John Edwards embraced that very same equine simile. “I feel like Seabiscuit,” Huckabee said on a morning talk show the day after the Iowa caucuses. “It seems to me that the perfect metaphor is Seabiscuit,” Elizabeth Edwards said of her husband at a New Hampshire rally on the same day. Catchphrase coincidence or campaign co-opting? It’s probably the former, but for Kucinich supporters, it’s just the latest example of “mainstream” candidates glomming onto Kucinich-coined, or -backed, wisdom — and getting to ride the corresponding wave of success.

Sure, Seabiscuit is just a sound-bite. But for Kucinich devotees, it’s a nice little illustration of how the Ohio Congressman/vegan/UFO-sighter’s words make sense in general — just not when they’re coming out of his mouth. And that’s just what’s wrong with the Kucinich campaign — a bizarre one, for sure: Kucinich’s ideas aren’t really so out there. Maybe it’s just that he is.

“If the Democratic base pulled levers for the candidate whose policies best reflected its own beliefs, Dennis Kucinich should win his party’s nomination in a landslide,” Salon writer Rebecca Traister wrote in November.

Indeed, Kucinich’s platform reads like a checklist of supposedly liberal ideals. He champions universal health care, ending the war, decreasing American dependence on foreign oil, campaign finance reform, and protecting constitutional rights — and unlike John Edwards, the progressive darling who adheres to many of the same tenets, Kucinich held these beliefs all along. Political polls show that a vast majority of Democratic voters (and some Republicans) support these ideas. Plus, the success of Barack Obama’s campaign shows that the American people are hungry for change — whatever that means — and it’s obvious that Kucinich would deliver that, if nothing else. Given the facts of this political landscape, he should have more support.

But he doesn’t. Take what happened two weeks ago in New Hampshire. The Kucinich team, which devoted significant time and resources there (after having been shut out of campaign events in Iowa), had hoped to do better in the Granite State on January 8. Paul Cunningham, a Kucinich supporter from Maine, had envisioned his candidate at least surpassing New Mexico governor Bill Richardson; Kucinich got only 1.4 percent of the vote in New Hampshire (compared to Richardson’s 5 percent), despite having campaigned in the state steadily from the day after Christmas through Primary Day.

His shortcoming isn’t for lack of interest (or determination — last week, Kucinich was granted a recount of the New Hampshire votes, which he requested due to alleged discrepancies between the machine- and hand-counted ballots).
“I was in New Hampshire for days,” Cunningham says. “Like here in Maine, scores of people said, ‘I love Dennis. He has the best ideas. But ... he can’t win; or I am voting for someone else; or I wish he was electable.’ If all those people just vote for Dennis, he may not win outright, but he will have loads of delegates.”

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