Dennis Kucinich Hoping forUpset in New Hampshire Primary | December 2, 2007

Posted by Sabrina Eaton Cleveland Plain Dealer Politics Blog

December 01, 2007 19:27PM

Categories: Democratic Party


After shaking Kucinich’s hand outside Brewbakers coffee shop in Keene, Jane Morgan of Hancock said she’ll definitely support him in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary. “He says what he thinks is right and he doesn’t mind saying things that will turn people off.”

Kucinich kicks off a fourteen hour day of presidential campaigning in the Keene, New Hampshire area by greeting campaign volunteers Bill Hay of Keene (center) and Donnell Graves of Cambridge, Mass. Bagel Works cafe.

Kucinich and his wife, Elizabeth, enter a house party at the Keene, New Hampshire home of dentist Paul Krautmann, where the candidate told Democratic primary voters: “If people want a winner, I can win.”

Kucinich supporter asks: Will I waste my vote? An audio report:
Dennis Kucinich talks about his New Hampshire campaign: An audio report:
Plain Dealer book review of “The Courage to Survive” by Dennis Kucinich
A Plain Dealer graphic on the New Hampshire primary:.

By Sabrina Eaton/Plain Dealer Washington Bureau

Keene, N.H. — “Moose Crossing” warnings still outnumber political signs along the snow-dusted byways of New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first presidential primary and the place where underdog Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich has pinned his presidential hopes.

Although Kucinich trails his party’s front-runners in campaign money and polls, the Cleveland congressman says he hopes to pull off an upset in New Hampshire’s Jan. 8 primary through the kind of hard work and grass-roots networking he has employed in Northeast Ohio for decades.

With that in mind, he recently wrapped up a 10-day campaign trip to rustic New Hampshire, where he spent 16-hour days shaking hands and delivering speeches in whitewashed town halls, cozy living rooms, local eateries and country club ballrooms.

“New Hampshire seems to be ready for a real change,” Kucinich said between a book signing and town hall meeting last weekend in Keene, a picturesque college town that calls itself the “Currier and Ives” corner of New Hampshire. “Every town hall meeting has been a solid turnout. What it tells me is that this election is not over. People are listening carefully to what I have to say, and when they hear what I have to say, they seem to like it.”

The New Hampshire primary, coming right after the Iowa caucuses, makes and breaks presidential candidates. Longshots who triumph can become contenders for their party’s nomination. A strong showing in New Hampshire helped propel former President Bill Clinton to the White House.

Coos County Democratic Party Chairman Paul Robitaille predicted Kucinich’s long swing through New Hampshire could boost his fortunes. Although he personally backs John Edwards, Robitaille met Kucinich over breakfast last Saturday at Tea Birds Caf in Berlin, a city in the White Mountains that has been devastated by closure of several local paper mills.

“Anything can happen in New Hampshire,” Robitaille said. “The state likes a maverick. They like someone who speaks the truth.”

“Seventy-five percent of voters haven’t made up their minds, and meeting candidates in the flesh like this helps them to focus,” agreed North Grafton Democratic Committee Chairwoman Katherine Terrie, who attended a Kucinich town hall meeting at a senior citizens center in the mountain resort town of Littleton, where the candidate declared New Hampshire voters could “save this country” by picking him in their primary.

University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala was more skeptical of Kucinich’s chances. He described the congressman as “too far left” to be elected and said he doubts Kucinich will place in New Hampshire’s top five.

Kucinich and his backers, including his wife, Elizabeth, a striking redhead who accompanies him to many appearances and often answers questions from voters, disagree with that assessment. They describe his positions as “mainstream” and are eagerly pushing forward. Kucinich says his pleas to end the Iraq war, establish a nonprofit health care system and impeach President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney play particularly well in the state.

“I’m the one person who cannot be bought, cannot be bossed, cannot be controlled,” he often told voters in New Hampshire, leaning forward on the balls of his feet. “I’m ready to give you your country back.”

Viability of bid
drawn into question

With a volunteer driver ferrying him to each stop in a silver Dodge SUV, Kucinich certainly packed in the crowds. His town hall meeting last Sunday at Keene’s Unitarian Universalist Church attracted about 200 people — as big a crowd as an event GOP candidate Mitt Romney held earlier that evening. The area’s politics junkies treated both events as a doubleheader that they topped off by watching the New England Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles on TV.

Crowds applauded and cheered Kucinich’s words, particularly when he discussed the Iraq war, health care, impeachment and the need to reduce corporate sway over America. Yet at nearly every stop, voters said they liked Kucinich’s message but might support someone else because they questioned his ability to win.

They cited Kucinich’s low standing in current polls, his lack of campaign cash, and the superior resources of other Democrats as reasons. By the end of September, Hillary Clinton’s campaign had collected $89 million, Barack Obama had collected $79.4 million, while Kucinich had $2.1 million.

“I am concerned that if I support your candidacy, that the nominee who is most close to the corporate interests on the Democratic side will win the Democratic nomination,” David Jonas of Francestown told Kucinich at a Nov. 24 house party. “I am very concerned about that and am inclined to support my second choice [Barack Obama] because of the viability of your candidacy.”

Kucinich and his wife, whom Kucinich said would act as an ambassador to world trouble-spots if he becomes president, made their case to Jonas by citing a USA Today/Gallup poll in mid-November that showed him in fourth place nationally among Democrats. They noted his campaign was outspent exponentially by the candidates who placed behind him.

Kucinich’s support level in that poll was 4 percent, and the margin of error was 5 five percent. Clinton had 48 percent, followed by Obama with 21 percent and Edwards with 12 percent.

The pair also cited Kucinich’s strength in online “noncorporate” polls, like a “Presidential Pulse Poll” conducted by the liberal group Democracy for America. Kucinich finished first in that tally, with 49,000 out of the 150,000 votes cast, after his campaign sent repeated e-mails that urged his supporters to vote. Kucinich did not secure the 66 percent majority needed to clinch the group’s presidential endorsement.

“If people get behind their choices, and if people get behind their hearts and line up with their intentions and get their friends to do so, everything changes,” the candidate told Jonas. “If you believe that what I’ve had to say tonight is what you really want, is the real direction you want America to take, if this is what you want, then go for it.”

After hearing out Kucinich, the bearded Jonas said he was skeptical but might still back the congressman as a “moral statement” rather than a strategic one. He said he admired Kucinich for “speaking up against the criminal acts” of the Bush administration, but was worried by Kucinich’s lack of campaign money and inability to place campaign ads.

“Obama has a very good organization, Hillary has a good organization, they have huge advertising dollars,” Jonas fretted. “They are in your face every evening when you turn on the television. And I read a lot. I’ve known about Dennis for years. But he is an asterisk, in many respects, in the campaign. The last debate in Nevada is an example. He was fighting for airspace and not being called upon.”

Some triumphs
in little meetings

Kucinich won over others at the party. Ron Lucas of nearby Greenfield shouted “Amen” at several points in Kucinich’s speech, and afterward signed up as a campaign volunteer. He said the congressman “hit the nail on the head on every issue — impeachment, corporate cartels, everything.”

“Democracy means you vote for what you stand for and you vote for someone who stands for your principles,” he said.

The next afternoon, after signing several dozen copies of his new autobiography, “The Courage to Survive,” at a bookstore in Keene, Kucinich pointed out that he has a long history of winning Cleveland-area elections on a shoestring. He observed in an interview that Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter was able to defeat GOP incumbent Jeb Bradley in the state last year through low-budget grass-roots campaigning.

“What we’re hoping to do with this effort in New Hampshire is to demonstrate the capability and viability of a grass-roots effort,” Kucinich said, looking very much the author in a black corduroy jacket and tie that featured Democratic-Party donkeys. “If we can have a strong showing here, this will spread all over the country. Of course, that’s what we’re hoping for. What I see that is really encouraging is these turnouts at these town hall meetings. It is very encouraging. And if you look at our schedule, we are going morning and night, morning and night, every single day.”

Kucinich is making inroads, if his reception at a jam-packed Nov. 25 house party in rural Acworth was any indication. After hearing Kucinich hold forth for nearly an hour on topics like his opposition to unfair trade deals, his proposed Cabinet-level Department of Peace, and his interest in having Texas GOP Rep. Ron Paul as a running mate, Bob Sandoe of Etna was a believer.

“So many people that I’ve talked to have said they think you would make a terrific president, but you can’t be elected,” Sandoe told Kucinich as the gathering concluded. “And I want to say: Of course you can be elected. All it takes is a roomful of people like this, over and over again.”

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