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Why Kucinich came.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Nelson Rockefeller won the 1964 Republican primary in Oregon because `he cared enough to come.' Forty years later, candidates don't care about the Oregon presidential primary - except Dennis Kucinich, who cared enough to come even though John Kerry has all the delegates he needs to wrap up the Democratic presidential nomination. Kucinich's effort suggests that late primaries in states such as Oregon may have a glimmer of relevance after all.

Kucinich knows he won't be his party's nominee, but unlike Kerry's other rivals, the Ohio congressman has not dropped out. Except for loopy Lyndon LaRouche, Kucinich will be the only alternative to Kerry on Oregon's Democratic ballot. Eight hundred people, a good-sized crowd for any political event, showed up to hear Kucinich at Lane Community College on Sunday.

Kucinich is still campaigning on the themes that brought him single-digit results in early primaries: universal health care, withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, suspension of trade agreements and repeal of the Patriot Act. But as the field has thinned, Kucinich's numbers have improved. He won 27 percent of caucus votes in Alaska on March 20, and earlier won nearly a third of caucus-goers' support in Hawaii.

In Oregon, Kucinich's pitch is that a vote for him on May 18 will remind Kerry that the Democratic Party still has a liberal wing - and that the nominee should not ignore those voters as he crafts his platform, his campaign and, possibly, his administration. It's a plausible, if modest, strategy: Kucinich clearly represents voters to the left of Kerry, and if he continues winning a substantial share of the vote in the remaining primaries he'll go to the party convention in Boston representing a clear constituency.

Of course, others will be free to interpret the Kucinich vote differently. Republicans, for instance, will see it as evidence of an anybody-but-Kerry tendency among Democrats, or as a sign that the presumptive nominee can't achieve party unity. Kerry's camp may prefer to characterize Kucinich voters as people who could voice support for an alternative without having to make a consequential decision.

Whatever the spin, the fact remains that Oregon voters will have a choice - a choice that could be invested with meaning, even though Kerry has the nomination wrapped up. The possibility of squeezing political meaning from the votes of late-primary states may lead other candidates to Oregon in the future, even though the major parties have engineered the primary and caucus schedule to produce nominees by the end of February. Kucinich cared enough to come - perhaps because he recognized there was still something worth coming for.
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Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 31, 2004
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