Left Hook

Presidential longshot Dennis Kucinich visits Tucson, vows 'to win at the convention.'

Four days before he'll capture 1 percent in the Iowa caucuses, longshot presidential contender Dennis Kucinich is explaining his strategy to win the party's nomination through an old-fashioned floor fight at the Democratic National Convention.

"This race is going to the convention," the Ohio congressman promises a group of Tucson reporters assembled in a room at downtown's Muse Center for the Arts. "We expect to win at the convention."

Kucinich's reasoning: Time is on his side, because none of the Democratic candidates will break out of the pack to win enough delegates before the convention. As the drawn-out campaign increasingly focuses on the Iraq war, Kucinich will emerge as the only candidate who's calling for handing over Iraq to the United Nations and bringing Americans troops home within 90 days of taking office. The other candidates, he complains, support keeping U.S. troops in Iraq until the country stabilizes.

"My candidacy challenges all the other Democrats on Iraq," says Kucinich, 57.

Although state and national polls barely register support for Kucinich, the former Cleveland mayor has drawn more than 500 supporters to his rally, including peace activists like the Women in Black and vegans excited by the idea that a president might foreswear meat.

Kucinich attacks the Bush Administration's aggressive military posture the moment he steps on stage.

"It's time to set aside doctrines of unilateralism and pre-emption," he says to loud cheers. "It's time to bring our troops home."

As he speaks, Kucinich is alternately soft-spoken and raging as he condemns Halliburton, the USA Patriot Act, NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. He promises to protect the environment from polluters, slash the Pentagon budget and establish a new national employment program to fix highways, bridges and libraries. He'll break up monopolies, deliver health care and abolish nuclear weapons from all countries on the face of the Earth.

It's easily the most leftist platform among this year's Democratic crop, and the crowd eats it up.

"He's the only candidate who has plans he knows how to accomplish," says Ross Lampert, 27, who is working on Kucinich's Arizona campaign.

Lampert, a UA political science grad who spent more than four months last year walking from Tucson to Washington, D.C., with his girlfriend to protest the Iraq war, says Kucinich is more authentic than Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who has captured a lot of leftist supporters.

"Howard Dean supporters are just as left as Dennis Kucinich's supporters," he says. "The thing is, Howard Dean himself is more conservative. He's definitely more fake. I've watched him in action, and he is going to do what it takes to get elected. If he wraps up the nomination, he's going to run for the center. I think Dennis Kucinich, if he gets the nomination, is going to stay with his true beliefs. Dennis is not fake."

Lampert says Kucinich's struggle to raise money has handicapped his campaign, but he doesn't buy polls that show his candidate at the bottom of the pack.

"I don't believe polls, because they poll 100 people, usually in Phoenix," Lampert says. "I think he's going to surprise a lot of people in Iowa. He might not come in first or second, but he'll probably have a lot stronger showing than people think he's going to have."

Kucinich, says Lampert, has a "great chance of winning if he gets the nomination."

"Bush is so polarizing," he says. "Dennis is somebody who has a broader appeal when people are confronted with the fact that Bush is doing stuff that's bad for them. Generally speaking, I think anybody in the Democratic field except Joe Lieberman is electable."

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