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Kucinich plans to push populism through June primaries

He has fewer than three dozen delegates, not a prayer of winning the nomination, but an unflagging will to campaign for issues he thinks will consolidate support from the Democratic Party's activist wing in November.

More than two months after Senator John F. Kerry essentially locked up the Democratic presidential nomination, Representative Dennis J. Kucinich is still out there, bouncing between rallies of liberal Democrats, his boyish energy still strong, his popularity still high in progressive communities across the country.

These days Kucinich can most often be found in Oregon, where a primary will be held May 18.

In the Pacific Northwest, the Ohio populist hopes voters will send a message to Democratic headquarters -- that the party needs "a new direction in Iraq and on trade."

No matter the outcome in Oregon, Kucinich vows to run through the last primaries, in New Jersey and Montana on June 8, and press his agenda at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in late July. His campaign announced that it will officially open a Boston convention headquarters today on Temple Place.

He wants to influence the party platform and has been relentlessly campaigning for a speedy pullout of US forces from Iraq.

Still, Kucinich has signaled that in the general election he will back Kerry, who by advocating a broader multinational force in Iraq and leaving US troops there until the situation stabilizes, differs sharply from Kucinich's call for "US out/UN in" immediately.

Kucinich said he is a political weapon that can help put a Democrat in the White House.

"Senator Kerry doesn't need my help, or anyone else's, to get to 47 percent," Kucinich said. "He's done very well, run a highly successful campaign for which he should be credited. The challenge is getting from 47 to 50 percent. Someone has to start thinking what can be done to keep in the party those Democrats and those independents who may be attracted to [Independent candidate] Ralph Nader."

Kucinich's positions on many issues are close to those of Nader, the public-interest and consumer activist who ran in 2000 under the Green Party banner and has called for a deadline on US troop involvement in Iraq. Kucinich has no intention of helping Nader.

"I'm a Democrat," he said. "The Democratic Party has a real capacity for growth, and our victory in November depends on that capacity for growth. The very flexibility Senator Kerry has been criticized for is the key to winning this election."

The fourth-term congressman and former Cleveland mayor declined to say what kind of showing he needs in Oregon to make his point to party-platform makers.

"My goal from the beginning has been to stay in the race and finish," Kucinich said recently in a telephone interview from Portland, Ore. "The direction of the nomination was decided after Iowa and New Hampshire," he said. "The direction of the party has not been decided."

Many Democrats, Kucinich said, are frustrated by the centrism of many party leaders, and the party must be careful not to alienate these voters.

"I'm like a long-distance runner who will finish the Boston Marathon," Kucinich said. "It may take me three hours, it may take me four, but as I cross the finish line, they'll know someone was running with a T-shirt that said 'Peace, health care, fair trade, and civil liberties.' "

Kucinich is now the itinerant preacher of the progressive wing of the party. It's a single-minded but lonely crusade: replace US troops in Iraq with a UN force; promote a single-payer, Canadian-style, health care system; pull the US out of the World Trade Organization, cancel NAFTA and return to bilateral trade agreements; and repeal the Patriot Act, which Kucinich says tramples civil liberties.

After primaries and caucuses in more than 40 states, Kucinich has, by various unofficial estimates, about 30 to 34 delegates, or fewer than 1 percent of the 4,322 scheduled to attend the convention July 26 to 29 in Boston.

He has received more than 500,000 votes, or 3.6 percent, of almost 14.4 million cast in those contests. Nearly half of that total came from California and his home state of Ohio, where he finished a distant third March 2, Super Tuesday. His strongest showings have been in caucus states, such as Alaska and Hawaii, where he exceeded 25 percent, and a few other states where his percentage hit double digits. The Kucinich campaign started April with $1.4 million on hand and no debt, according to the latest report to the Federal Election Commission.

By last week, the Kucinich campaign was to have six paid staffers in Boston, setting up a series of events before and during the convention.

Tim Carpenter of Northampton, director of the Kucinich convention effort, said Kucinich supporters will turn out at regional platform hearings in advance of the convention. At least 2,000 are expected to come to Boston to take part in a series of workshops, vigils, and other public activities, including some in the city's neighborhoods.

A Kerry spokeswoman, Kathy Roeder, said, "We think in many ways having Congressman Kucinich out there is a good way to keep the Democratic Party inclusive and a lot of views can be expressed. In the long run, hopefully, we can pick up more voters that way."

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