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Kerry for the Democrats.

Byline: The Register-Guard

John Kerry wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination in March, but Oregon's May 18 primary still has relevance. Oregon Democrats will communicate a message when they mark the ballots that began arriving in the mail this weekend. There's a risk that Democrats will send a destructive message by expressing a lack of confidence in the Massachusetts senator.

That risk comes in the person of Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio congressman who is the last of Kerry's active opponents for the nomination. Kucinich has spent much of the past two months campaigning in Oregon. Kucinich knows he can't win, but he hopes to persuade Democrats that a vote for him would tug Kerry and the party leftward.

Kucinich's pitch may appeal to Oregon Democrats who resent having had nothing to say about their party's nominee. It may appeal to party members who believe Kerry is too much of a centrist, and believe Democrats should take a more ambitious agenda into the fall campaign against President George Bush. It will certainly appeal to Democrats who are unimpressed with Kerry's performance so far in the campaign. Besides, voters might reason that Kerry already has all the convention delegates he needs, so Oregon can't hurt the nominee by voting to stir things up. The temptation to vote for Kucinich is real.

Democrats should resist this temptation. A strong showing for Kucinich in Oregon would be interpreted as a weak showing for Kerry.

A political party's nominating process has a dual purpose: first, to put forward a candidate who reflects party members' views, and second, to nominate the contender who has the best chance of prevailing in the general election. Democrats in other states have already chosen Kerry as the man best suited to serve both purposes. At this point, all that Democrats in Oregon can do is reinforce that decision - or undercut it with a display of doubt.

Doubts about Kerry are common enough without Oregon Democrats adding to them. April was a rough month for President Bush, with a spike in violence in Iraq, rising gas prices, stubbornly high unemployment and a barrage of unflattering revelations on the best-seller list. Yet it is Kerry who has spent recent weeks on the defensive, trying to explain what he did or didn't do with his Vietnam War medals or whether he does or doesn't drive an SUV. Kerry's inability to capitalize on Bush's troubles and improve his polling numbers has filled many Democrats with foreboding.

An expression of buyers' remorse from Oregon would not improve Kerry's standing. Indeed, the best Oregon Democrats can do is understand that the nominating process is effectively over. While Kucinich is jostling for a spot at the podium at the Democrats' convention in Boston, for Kerry the general election campaign has begun. A setback in Oregon, even a symbolic one, would be a victory for Bush.

Strategic voting should only be carried so far - any Democrat who likes Kucinich (or, for that matter, perennial candidate Lyndon LaRouche, D-Neptune, who is also on the Oregon ballot) ought to vote accordingly. Kucinich favors single-payer health insurance, wants to terminate multilateral trade agreements such as NAFTA and favors a military withdrawal from Iraq. To people who support those positions, Kerry looks like Bush lite: he supports only incremental changes in the health care system, is a committed free-trader and believes the U.S. must stay in Iraq until security responsibilities can be internationalized. There is a difference between these two Democrats.

Yet Kucinich says he supports Kerry, and will campaign for him after the convention. If Kucinich can bring himself to support Kerry later, Oregon Democrats should question the wisdom of deserting Kerry now.

No one in New York City or Washington, D.C., will pay much attention to the results of the Oregon Democratic primary if Kerry wins. Oregon's vote will be noticed only if Kucinich succeeds in embarrassing Kerry. Democrats are members of a party that has already cast its lot, for better or for worse, and their man doesn't need that kind of kick in the shins. Oregon Democrats should vote for John Kerry.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; It's too late for buyers' remorse
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 2, 2004
Previous Article:Election 2004: Summary of recommendations.
Next Article:Cutting youth drug rehab a bad idea.

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