Scanning the national press, you wouldn't know Dennis Kucinich from Dennis the Menace. Talk to some Portland progressives and you'd think he's the only Democratic candidate who can dethrone King George W.
The Ohio congressman boasts atrocious poll numbers in New Hampshire and Iowa but has struck a chord in Portland. Kucinich for President 2004 lays claim to the only local office for any presidential candidate (1420 SE 37th Ave.). This fervent following has a database of 600 volunteer names, including a core group of about 65 who have helped raise more than $150,000 with 2,000 individual donations in Oregon.
In a state that was a Ralph Nader stronghold during the past two presidential races, it's no surprise to see local Kucinich bumper stickers matching those of frontrunner Howard Dean. In fact, the vibrancy of Kucinich's local chapter might be traced back to Nader's mantra to vote for one's belief, not the lesser of two evils.
"Dean isn't as liberal as he pretends to be," says Kate Mytron, a longtime political activist who switched her support from Dean to Kucinich after the latter's most recent visit--a quickly organized event that drew 300.
Kucinich wants to withdraw from the WTO, pull out of Iraq in 90 days, and implement a Canadian-style health-care system.
Barry Marks, a retired health-care lawyer and Kucinich volunteer, hopes Kucinich can follow Dean's example by vaulting from underdog to leader of the pack. "People don't want a phony politician," Marks says.
Despite Kucinich's grassroots popularity, he can't match Dean's local endorsement list, which includes Congressman David Wu, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, County Commissioner Serena Cruz and former Gov. Barbara Roberts. (Kucinich does have Danny Glover on board).
While Kucinich backers love to portray Dean as a phony liberal, Dean supporters seem on intent on playing nice. "I like Kucinich. I think a lot of Dean supporters like Kucinich," says Oregon for Dean organizer Rebekah Kassell. "A lot of people will vote for a candidate like Kucinich not because that person is going to win but because that's exactly who meets with their ideals."
Kucinich supporters are quick to point out that while others dismiss him based on polls, Bill Clinton had only a 6 percent score in October '91, and Jimmy Carter didn't even register on the first four polls in his initial campaign.