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  RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT, ON EMPTY.  
   
   
  ep. Dennis Kucinich is crouched over in the front seat of a rental car, head in lap, struggling to stuff seaweed into his mouth. The car is driven by a staffer, with two other staffers and a reporter sardined into the back seat. The car hits a bump, and the seaweed, purchased from a Des Moines Vietnamese restaurant, is leaking out the side of his mouth and falling onto the floor.  
           
 

"John, you're gonna have to pull over," Kucinich orders. "I'm making a horrible mess up here."

They have just left the Trinity Methodist Church, where Kucinich, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, has given a 45-minute speech deriding the then just-begun war in Iraq. Next stop, about five minutes away, is an informal gathering at the home of a supporter, one of the "grassroots activists" Kucinich has organizing his Iowa campaign. But now it is time to eat. Quickly.

Kucinich, entirely invisible from the back seat, moans. "I've got food all over the place down here. Whose car is this?" Amy, the campaign's field manager, chimes in from the back seat. "Don't worry about it. It's a rental. You're the one paying for it." Kucinich begins to speak, but then Amy's cell phone rings. "It's California, they're ready for that conference call." Kucinich gathers up the loose napkins and styrofoam, deposits it in a plastic bag, hands it to another staffer and takes the phone. He still has a sliver of some sort of green goo on the side of his lip. He updates the other line on the campaign's comings and goings in Iowa for about five minutes, then the car revs up and turns back onto the road.

"This is a really nice phone, Amy. Fancy," he says, handing it back to her.

"Thanks. You're paying for that too."

Kucinich sighs and stares vacantly for a moment, as if he is trying to solve a particularly difficult math problem. "Yes. Yes, I suppose I am."

*******

At last count, there were nine contenders for the 2004 Democratic nomination for President. The contenders seem to break into three categories. Rep. Dick Gephardt, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. John Kerry can safely be classified the favorites. You have your dark horses: insurgent Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, commonly seen as the strongest anti-war candidate, Florida Sen. Bob Graham, famous for the heading the Senate investigations into September 11, and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a charismatic former trial lawyer cut from the Clinton cloth.

Then you have the longshots. Rev. Al Sharpton is the most recognizable, through his ascension to the self-styled throne of Black America's Spokesperson vacated by Jesse Jackson. And then … there

 
 

are the other two. The first is Carol Moseley Braun, the former Senator from Illinois. The second is Kucinich. (That's KOO-sin-ITCH. You are forgiven if you didn't sound it out that way; it is pronounced three different ways on three different voice mails in Kucinich's Washington office.) The climb for the longshots is precipitous. You have to present your case as a potential leader of the world's most powerful nation during a time of unprecedented global instability. You have to bring millions of disparate people together to back your singular agenda. You have to appeal to the disenchanted while still holding onto your core base of supporters. Lacking all that, at the very least, you have to get people to learn your name.

But most of all, you have to raise a lot of money. Fundraising has always been the centerpiece of political campaigns, but 2004, more than any other year, candidates' ravenous hunger for cash will be unyielding, insatiable. And you need it earlier than ever. The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary have both been moved up this year, to Jan. 19 and Jan. 27, respectively. They're followed almost immediately by Souther Carolina on Feb. 3. The schedule has been pushed forward so dramatically, some states, including Tennessee, Colorado, Utah, Missouri and Arizona, out of fear of irrelevancy, have either canceled their primaries all together or are considering doing so.

This means a candidate has an extremely limited window of opportunity to break through; a poor showing in either state, and you're over before they're done exit polling. This also means that if you entered the race in February 2003, a full 21 months before Election Day, it could conceivably be argued that you entered the race too late. Much of your competition has already been trolling around Iowa and New Hampshire for a full year.

The ground rules have also changed. When the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill was up for debate, it gathered far more support from Democrats than Republicans. But it's the Democratic Party that will suffer most from the new law, which eliminated soft money, a Democratic specialty. In the last two federal elections, Republicans candidates have out-raised Democrats ones in hard money -- individual contributions up to $2,000, $4,000 from couples -- nearly 2 to 1. And then there is the matching funds issue. After Jan. 1, 2004, every penny a candidate has raised is matched by the federal government, up to $44 million. This has two conditions. First, a candidate, if he/she is to accept public funds, must limit personal spending to $50,000; go over that, and you lose access to the matching funds. And, perhaps even more restricting, each candidate will be allowed to only spend $44 million until the July nominating convention. In a crowded race, that money could be spent by mid-March. That's four months running on fumes. In the past, the Democratic party could help to pick up the slack … but, of course, they don't have access to that soft money anymore.

So, if you've successfully survived all the primaries and emerged from the carnage victorious … your reward is a battle with a popular sitting President, a wartime commander-in-chief, a candidate likely unchallenged in his party's primaries (and therefore not needing to spend a dime before the general election), a man who most experts predict will break his 2000 fundraising record of $101 million. No, not break. Shatter. The Bush in 2004 campaign is targeting $250 million, and observers on both sides think he might just get there. So while you're desperately scrambling to replenish coffers laid barren by a brutal primary battle, you're getting blasted left and right by endless television ads you can't afford to counter. Congratulations! You won!

In the face of all this, it's little wonder Kerry is considered the prohibitive Democratic favorite. He might not have the name recognition of a Lieberman or a Gephardt, but he does have access to the cash. Not only is he currently bringing in more cash than the other candidates, he also has an ace in the hole: His wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry, the widow of former Republican Senator John Heinz, the heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune. Forbes estimates the couple's net worth at $550 million. They might need every penny.

And then you have Kucinich, who, when he's in Iowa, has been known to sleep on supporters' couches to save funds. (His full-time staffers are constantly surfing the Web for cheap temporary

 
 

housing deals; they're currently enamored with "Extended Stay America," which provides apartment-like abodes on a month-to-month basis.) That's still a step above some candidates from the past. Jerry Brown, a perceived "fringe' candidate who actually won some primaries in his time, says he would meet people at rallies and ask them to stay at their homes afterwards (he estimates he stayed in more than 200 different supporters' houses; "you learn a lot about the great variety of junk people keep in their bathrooms," he says). In Michael Lewis' book Trail Fever, about the 1996 race for the Republican nomination, he writes that Alan Keyes' campaign staff, when hastily checking out of a New Hampshire hotel, told the front desk that their bill would be taken care of by Morry Taylor, an independently wealthy fellow candidate. (It was the first Taylor had heard of it.)

Kerry has his family fortune. Gephardt is renowned for his strength among labor unions. Lieberman is expected to draw in vast numbers of Jewish donors. Edwards has the Southern ties many believe necessary for a Democratic candidate to win. And Dennis Kucinich and Carol Moseley Braun? They make cold calls to potential donors and try to convince them "President Kucinich"and "President Moseley Braun" slip off the tongue smoothly. And to try to persuade them that writing checks to the campaign, which are not tax-deductible, isn't just setting fire to cash.

Despite his lack of name recognition, Kucinich didn't just drop from the sky and decide to run for President. His political career started in 1977 as the 31-year-old mayor of Cleveland, a tempestuous two-year reign that survived a recall vote a year in and such rampant lack of popularity that he wore a bulletproof vest while throwing out the first pitch of an Indians game. After a fight over the city's public utilities -- Kucinich refused demands of local banks (to which the city owed more than $15 million) that he sell the city-owned power company to private interests -- the city defaulted on its debts, and Kucinich was swept out of office after one term. (Cleveland still owns its power company, making its electric bills among the cheapest in the country, a fact credited to Kucinich.)

After rattling around Cleveland for a decade, working as a radio personality and television reporter, Kucinich won election to the Ohio Senate in 1994 and then the U.S. House in 1996. He is currently in his fourth term, where he has become one of the Bush administration's loudest critics, particularly on the war with Iraq. If he were elected, Kucinich says he will institute a Department of Peace, which will attempt to "make war archaic."

In the grand tradition of lesser-known Presidential candidates, he is short, listed at five-foot-seven, which, well, might be a generous estimate. Though he's now 56, he still has the relentless energy and bounce of the man once called "the boy mayor." His speeches are extemporaneous brainy treatises -- in four speeches to various Iowans, he never once uses any notes -- that mix impassioned rhetoric with sudden spastic bursts of humor. When answering a question from a union worker about the Bush administration's apparent "bloodlust," he speaks for two minutes about the United Nations, about the world's perception of the U.S. and about a perceived "perpetual war machine." Then he gets rolling. "So, we beat Iraq? Then what happens? Perpetual war. Iraq! Iran! North Korea!" He lets a beat pass, then pounds his chest like King Kong and lets loose a gutteral "ROWRR!!" This was just a few minutes after spontaneously belting Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Sixteen Tons" to a confused yet riveted union audience.

In 1998, the husband-and-wife team of Wes Boyd and Joan Blades were disgusted with the endless impeachment proceedings of President Clinton. The year before, they had sold their technology company, Berkeley Systems (they're the ones who created those cute flying toaster screensavers), and were eager for a new endeavor. With the Clinton impeachment, they found it. Almost on a whim, they set up a Website called MoveOn.org, designed as a place where those exhausted of the whole impeachment saga could organize and, ultimately, put together a petition to Congress to, as the title suggests, "Censure President Clinton and Move On." To their surprise, the site exploded. The solicitation garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures within weeks. They had clearly stumbled across something.

It occurred to the couple that this grassroots Internet activism could morph into a full-fledged political powerhouse. MoveOn formed its own political action committee-initially to lobby for campaign finance reform and environmental issues and inevitably segueing into anti-war advocacy- for the 2000 election cycle as its numbers soared and ultimately raised a stunning $2.4 million. In the 2002 cycle, that figure rose to $4 million. And this was hard money. Individuals simply giving out cash to a cause they believed in. MoveOn now says it has 750,000 subscribers across the United States. And it's all put together without a single $1,000-a-plate fundraiser, by an organization less than five years old.

It was telling that candidates paid so much attention to last month's MoveOn.org primary, which allowed registered MoveOn.org users to vote for their favorite candidate. Not only is there positive PR from winning such a primary, but you can believe that there's some money from MoveOn users just waiting to be had. MoveOn actually launched

 
  the primary as a political action committee,

saying any candidate who earned more than 50 percent of the vote would receive its official endorsement. Dean eventually won the primary, with 43.87 percent of the vote, and he likely would have notched his 50 percent if it hadn't been for Kucinich, who finished second with 23.93 percent. (Third was Kerry with 15.73 percent. The worst showing was Lieberman, who finished with 1.92 percent, lower than everyone, including Moseley Braun, except Reverend Al.)

Don't think the Kucinich campaign hasn't noticed all this. The candidate himself has been the loudest antiwar voice in Congress (he's the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus) and is a child of activism himself. Voting-wise, Kucinich-save for occasionally shifting positions on abortion-is easily the most liberal candidate for president, and his supporters are targeting the Democratic left,

 
 

those who abandoned the party in 2000 to vote for Ralph Nader. (One of his full-time staffers is Jeff Cohen, the founder of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.) Without name recognition, or even correct name pronunciation for that matter, Kucinich knows he'll need to raise money from unconventional means … and with MoveOn.org's success, he has a model. His staff says MoveOn has proven it can be done.

"There's a tremendous amount of cost savings achieved through using the Internet for organizational and fundraising purposes," Kucinich says. "With the Internet, you don't need money to contact people. What you need is money to put an infrastructure together around which people can organize, and we plan on using the Internet to organize that. Some cities we'll organize out of people's homes. The beauty of this kind of campaign is that it doesn't require a lot of money to get started."

No one has ever tried such a tactic in a Presidential campaign before -- the closest was Brown, the former governor of California and all-around rabble-rouser, and current mayor of Oakland, who raised eyebrows in 1992 by raising almost $5 million dollars from a 1-800 number -- but Kucinich is counting on it. Three weeks after his Website, kucinich.us, added a fundraising feature, he had raised nearly $100,000. As important, he is relying on the Internet to serve as an organizing mechanism; "the Internet enables the creation of campaign organizations almost overnight," he says. He has hired two full-time fundraisers, he's making cold calls - "optimum would be spending a couple of hours a day, minimum, but I haven't started that just yet" - but in the Kucinich campaign, the Internet bubble never burst. It's expected to keep the campaign solvent, and afloat. "It's somewhat experimental, but we think it's risk-free," says one staffer. "(Kucinich) is beloved by activists already."

He's even tapping into existing Internet resources. Remember, during the dot-com boom, when corporations were paying millions of dollars simply for a domain name? Bob Fertik was one of the beneficiaries of that. Fertik (and his co-founder, David Lynam) had the foresight to reserve www.Democrats.com, a Website unaffiliated with the Democratic National Committee and run out of his Brooklyn apartment. Fertik pulls fewer punches than the party whose name graces his site-he has a game on his site that allows players to undress and seduce conservative commentator Ann Coulter by feeding her pickup lines like "Let me have my way with you and I'll buy you your own cable network"-but his Website has grown in popularity thanks to its name and his regular updates sent through his mailing list, which he says numbers at about 100,000 subscribers. ("It's the largest Democratic mailing list outside of the Democratic Party itself," he beams.)

The missives fired out through the site typically either are screeds against the Bush administration and informal presidential straw polls, but on March 24, the mailings took a different tone. More specifically … they read like Kucinich campaign literature. What might have been a presidential straw poll or a scathing commentary on Bill O'Reilly before now was a text of a speech Kucinich gave on the House floor. As is turned out, Kucinich had hired Fertik to be a "paid advisor," which essentially meant his mailing list was being rented by the campaign. Fertik won't say how much the campaign is paying him but says even though Democrats.com subscribers weren't told Fertik is now a hired hand, he "would have supported him anyway." And Kucinich now has 100,000 email addresses of like-minded supporters.

Using almost exclusively money raised through the Web -- even though Federal Election Commissions laws allow him to do so, Kucinich says he will not use money he has on hand from his Congressional races -- the campaign has opened Kucinich for President offices in Cleveland, Marin County, California and Des Moines.

As of early April, there were eight full-timers on staff: two fundraisers, three people in the Cleveland office and three in the Iowa office. One of those staffers is Brian Depew, who, one month into his hiring, will graduate from Simpson College in nearby Indianola, Iowa. This is not just his first presidential campaign; this is his first job. He wouldn't say how much he's being paid - "Uh, I won't be getting rich off this" - but is a fully engaged member of the team, prepping Kucinich for speeches, setting up interviews and passing out pamphlets, bumper stickers and yard signs . He has rail thin, has long, philosophy-major hair and carries around a backpack with peace buttons on it. "I'm totally stoked," Brian says. "This is the coolest job ever. I can't wait for classes to end."

This early in the campaign, anything to bring down expenses - like full-time staffers fresh out of college - is vital, and Kucinich is confident he will still be able to control his finances when the heavy hitting begins, likely in the late summer and early fall. He also anticipates being able to double his fundraising each month up to January, when the matching funds kick in. (Candidates often take loans with the premise that the matching funds are impending; understandably, banks are typically hesitant to lend money to presidential candidates whose names they barely know.)

The problem now, of course, is finding a way to convince people to give as much as $2,000 to a candidate widely considered to have a minimal chance of winning. (In most polls, Kucinich comes in dead last in name recognition.) And remember, these donations have no tax credit. Anyone who gives Kucinich a campaign donation is saying, essentially, "I want you to spend this money rather than me."

In many ways, Bill Clinton is the prototype. Rare is the upstart candidate who does not invoke his name (ideology and personal differences aside), and that he was once polling at 1 percent. His ascendance is a blueprint for rising from obscurity. Jimmy Carter also inspires similar reverent tones; "people once didn't know who he was either," Kucinich says. So it can be done. "I don't have to impress anyone right now with a lot of money. I'm fully aware that I do not start this race with the kind of name recognition other candidates have. I understand that. But I have something that many candidates do not, and that is a very dedicated core of activists for whom I've been a chief spokesperson over many years."


*******

Gary Bauer is afraid I'm a creditor.

In 1999, Bauer, a domestic policy advisor for the Reagan Administration and the former head of the religious conservative Family Research Council, decided to run for the Republican nomination. It didn't go well. The highlight of his candidacy was bringing in a whopping eight percent of the vote in Iowa, good enough for fourth place. The lowlights? Bauer's campaign was a

 
  smorgasbord of humiliation, a case study in how to build up a name for yourself only to obliterate it just as people were learning who you were. Once, on stage with the other four Republican candidates for a pancake-flipping contest (really), he, trying to catch his flapjack, fell backwards off a four-foot lectern in full view of an unforgiving live camera feed, providing a gleeful New Hampshire audience with some hilariously unintentional

 
 

slapstick.

Another time, sex columnist Dan Savage, battling a nasty flu bug, impersonated a Bauer volunteer in order to lick the headquarters' doorknobs in order to infect the candidate and his staffers. But the epic masterpiece of the Bauer campaign had to be the Melissa McClard fiasco. In the middle of the campaign, Bauer hastily organized a bizarre press conference to deny "widespread" allegations that he had been having an affair with McClard, a staffer. The allegations not only were false, they seemed to exist only in Bauer's own mind. Reporters looked at each other, dumbfounded. Who said Gary Bauer was having an affair? Where did he come up with that?

Bauer dropped out of the race after the New Hampshire primary and learned "in fairly short order" that his campaign still owed $200,000, mostly to direct mailers. You think it's difficult to raise money when people don't think you have a chance to win? Try doing it when you've already dropped out. In an interview, I asked him how he paid the debt off.

His response was curious. "You're not just impersonating a reporter, are you? You're not actually somebody representing people I owe money to?" He paused. I chuckled. Silence. He is kidding, right? He didn't speak again until I informed him that no, I'm not here to break his thumbs. The interview resumed. "Uh, no, it hasn't all been paid off yet." Bauer said he's whittled the debt down to about $100,000, more than three years after he dropped out of the race. He could conceivably solicit donations from the Family Research Council, but, um, the FRC, the organization he founded, did not ask him to return when the campaign ended. They felt he'd been too "politicized."

 

 
 

So let's get this straight. You organize a presidential campaign in the face of overwhelming odds that not even your closest advisors think you'll overcome, expend endless energy and more money than you've ever seen to promote your name and your agenda, spend months away from your family, embarrass yourself in front of the entire country, drag yourself through the inevitable muck presidential campaigns all-too-willingly provide … and for your trouble you end up deeply in debt and fired by your own lobbying group.

Why in the world would anyone put themselves through this? (To

 
  his credit, Bauer says it wasn't an entirely fruitless endeavor. He says

people now recognize him in airports all the time, so, you know, he has that.)

Ideally, safeguards exist to avoid extensive campaign debts. In a year preceding a presidential election, The Federal Election Commission requires quarterly reports from each candidate on every cent that comes in, what it's spent on and how much cash is currently on hand. (When the date hits Jan. 1, 2004, the reports are filed monthly.) The most recent report was due at the end of June; Kucinich reported $1.7 million raised, while Moseley Braun filed $217,000. (In comparison, Kerry raised $16 million, and Edwards raised $12 million. Heck, annual crackpot Lyndon LaRouche raised $4.8 million. President Bush topped everyone, of course, with $38 million.) As a frame of reference, the beleaguered Bauer reported raising $2.2 million at the same point in 1999, when the primaries coming later and fewer competing candidates. And you saw how that turned out.

Carol Moseley Braun doesn't seem scared. In 1992, Braun - her name was hyphenated until very recently -- was the toast of the country. Her out-of-nowhere rise from Cook County (Ill.) Recorder of Deeds to her election as the first-ever African American female Senator warmed the hearts of just about everyone but Jesse Helms (who notoriously whistled "Dixie" when he passed her in the Senate's halls). Illinoisians took pride in their forward thinking, and her victory became symbolic of what became known as the "Year of the Woman."

It didn't take long for the good will to disintegrate. Almost immediately after the election, the IRS began investigating how she was spending her campaign money; she was alleged to have spent extra cash on trips for her and her campaign manager and then-fiancé (she denies this, and the allegations were never proven). As her term went on, she was attacked for being too chummy with since-deceased Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, embracing legislation that would benefit associates and missing key Senate votes. True or not, the die was cast, and when she ran for reelection against millionaire Republican Peter Fitzgerald, she lost a close race. Since then, she's dropped off the map, serving as the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, or "ambassador to paradise," she calls it. She spent a total of two years abroad, her "Walden Pond time."

So when Moseley Braun reemerged in February with her announcement that she was forming the eponymous exploratory committee, it didn't take long for people to assign her with nefarious motives; specifically, that she was talked into running by noted DNC strategist Donna Brazile as a way of diluting Sharpton's influence. Few consider Sharpton a legitimate candidate, but his access to the "black vote" -- and the subsequent power he could wield were he able to rally black voters and win a primary or two -- could cause intense headaches for the Democratic Party. Moseley Braun dismisses the rumors - "The question assumes an old politic, the question that black people are monolithic and just vote for 'the' black candidate. That's just not true.'" - but one thing she doesn't deny is that she could be in for a bumpy road.

"I've raised a lot of money (in the past), but at the same time, I've never, obviously raised the kind of money that's required for a presidential campaign," she says. "But if people embrace my candidacy, the money will presumably come."

She'll have to hope so. When we met for coffee earlier this year, she was crisscrossing the country the old-fashioned way: on her credit card. Her staff was entirely volunteer (she planned to add two full-time staffers "soon"), was scheduling appointments through a

 
 

Chicago public relations firm and admitted "I have not spent as much time fundraising so far as I probably should." She could be a bit out of practice. She says she's been calling potential donors "who haven't heard from me in about four years." But it must be done. Personally. Moseley Braun says she closes herself in a room, pours some tea, opens a bag of chocolate covered raisins and just calls and calls and calls.

Moseley Braun doesn't seem to be

 
 

as organized as Kucinich. She hasn't been making as many regular trips to the key states of Iowa and New Hampshire. She also hasn't quite mastered pre-publicity. During a trip to New York, she was scheduled to speak at the Riverside Church in Harlem. Problem was, no one informed the church until the day of the event; as a result, few seemed to know she was coming, and those who did, weren't sure where.

When she showed up, 45 minutes late, she had been bumped from the chapel to the cafeteria, where only approximately 30 people -- half of which were press -- were waiting. One parishioner said she only knew Moseley Braun was appearing because she noticed photographers next to the Coke machine. "She wasn't even on the schedule," she said. It was reminiscent of Moseley Braun's trip to Iowa to announce that she was forming her exploratory committee. The declaration coincided with the snowstorm that paralyzed the Midwest in February. Three people showed up: Moseley Braun, a staffer and one intrepid supporter. ("How he got there was a mystery," Moseley Braun says. "Sled dogs, maybe.")

"It's like trying to build a boat while you're still in the water," Moseley Braun says. "I talked to people who have done this before, and they said, 'Well, it's the biggest thing you'll ever do. It's a huge undertaking.' I'm just getting started, and they're already right."

Moseley Braun says she's just calling on old supporters and concentrating on putting the campaign's foundation together, including getting her name on the ballot in the appropriate states. She says she's "astonished" by how much fundraising and organization has been done by her opponents, though "the money demands are so great, you almost have to do that to be competitive." That raises the question, of course, of why she didn't do that. Many had speculated that Moseley Braun, if she were to re-enter the arena, might go after her old Senate seat, but she says that it would be pointless, since she's "already done that." That, to her, made a presidential run the only other legitimate option.

Of course, she hasn't signed up for a long-term contract. "By the fall, we'll have a real sense of whether or not this can continue to go forward," she says. "We'll know then whether to fold up our tents or to engage fully. If we can't find the money, we'll have no real choice. But I don't believe that will happen."

And then it was time for the check to come. She looked to her right, at her staffer, then back at me. "You got this? Is the Times paying for this?" She smiled wanly. (Editor's Note: This story was originally assigned by The New York Times Magazine.)

******

People run for president for reasons far more complicated than merely winning. Some do it to advance a certain agenda, some do it to represent a neglected demographic, some do it simply because they like imagining "President" before their last name ("A large part of this is ego gratification, definitely," says Bauer.) But even if Kucinich or Moseley Braun make a surprise surge, even if they win a couple primaries, even if the somehow earn the nomination … at the end of the November 2004, if they're not President, they say all of the fundraising and long hours and naps on supporters' couches will have been worthless.

"I refuse to even consider the possibility of not winning," Moseley Braun says. "I mean, the notion is inconceivable to me. I'm in this race to win, and considering anything else is unimaginable. I'm going to win. There's no point otherwise."

Kucinich's candidacy seems designed to bring the Democratic party back to its more traditionally adversarial position with the Republicans - he quotes the late Sen. Paul Wellstone's mantra, "I'm

 
 

from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" -- but he, also, says he's not running just to have a message heard. "I'm used to running campaigns on a shoestring and getting maximum results," he says. "You have a purpose which brings you into politics which goes beyond winning, obviously. But every election I've been in, I've been in to win.

"When I look at this whole sweep of the campaign, I mean, I can really see myself being in a

 
 

position where I could win a couple of states. From then on, it's unpredictable. But yeah, I can really see the circumstances coming together. I really can."

I am interviewing Kucinich on a park bench outside an office building, a quick jam session squeezed in between campaign stops, when his cell phone rings. It is a reporter from a Cleveland newspaper with horrible news. A woman in Kucinich's congressional district had been brutally murdered the night before, and when her husband learned the news, he suffered a heart attack. The couple's son, also from Kucinich's district, is currently overseas in Kuwait, and the brother contacted the newspaper to figure out how to reach him. Kucinich stops the interview and mobilizes his staff. He explains the situation in a somber, funereal tone, and for the first time, the wear of three consecutive days of campaigning and less than four hours' sleep begins to show. "It's just awful, just awful," he mutters, and all of his youthful exuberance has evaporated. Amy, his field manager, begins the process of getting through to Kuwait, but pauses to remind him a union group is scheduled to see him in a conference room inside, and he's 15 minutes late already. He tells her to keep calling while he's in the meeting, but to interrupt if there is any news.

He rubs his hands through his longish combed-over hair, walks to the conference room and stops before entering. He lightly slaps his cheeks and says, to himself, "OK." He then greets seven presumed higher-ups of the Iowa Communications Workers Association, sits down and slumps in his chair to the point that his head is barely visible. He is silent for five seconds that feel like an hour.

He then pulls himself up. "Thank you for meeting with me. I'm Dennis Kucinich, I'm running for president, and I need your support."

 

*BT*

Will Leitch is a managing editor of The Black Table.