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In Minnesota visit, Kucinich invokes the legacy of Wellstone
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Supporters packed the small high school auditorium. When Kucinich hit the stage, a good old-fashioned political rally commenced with flags, red, white, and blue balloons, and a candidate ready to fire up support. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
Though the Democratic presidential nominating convention isn't until next summer, several of the nine candidates vying for George Bushs' job have been making Minnesota a must-stop state on the campaign trail. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is the latest candidate to roll into Minnesota. He spoke to hundreds of supporters this weekend at rally at Central High School in St. Paul.

St. Paul, Minn. — Despite 90-degree temperatures on a Saturday night, hundreds, including supporters and the merely curious, came out to see just who this Dennis Kucinich fellow is. He's a slightly-built man, polite and focused on engaging those around him, to talk, shake his hand, take a photo.

Kucinich's war chest is small -- about $2 million. That's compared to top Democratic fundraiser John Kerry at $16 million. And he's considered a bit of an outsider.

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So, does he have what it takes to beat George Bush in 2004, much less edge out the eight other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination? Kucinich says, it's early, keep watching.

"I like running in a year when Sea Biscuit is one of the popular movies, because these legs might be spindly, but they're the legs of a runner. And I think this campaign, like the legend of Sea Biscuit, is primed to move up from behind the pack and consistently move towards a leading position as the primary season draws near," he says.

Kucinich's visit to Minnesota is about visibility, making connections, and raising money. In a pre-rally news conference, Kucinich was quick to invoke the name of the late Paul Wellstone. The two men had worked together in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Kucinich says he mentions Wellstone not out of opportunism, but because he's the only one running a true Wellstone-type progressive campaign.

"Paul Wellstone would support the 15-percent reduction in Pentagon spending that I've talked about. Paul Wellstone would support the repeal NAFTA and the WTO. Paul Wellstone stood for so many progressive ideas that are congenial to who I am," according to Kucinich.

Supporters packed the small high school auditorium. When Kucinich hit the stage, a good old-fashioned political rally commenced with flags, red, white, and blue balloons, and a candidate ready to fire up support.

The candidate's speech was part political, part pep talk with a bit of new age philosophy. He told the audience to believe in hope, and trust, and being the best person they can be. And he asked them to join him in turning the country around toward values grounded in human rights and peace.

Perhaps the most unusual issue in Kucinich's campaign is creating a cabinet-level Department of Peace. He says it would establish principles of non-violence as a guide for both domestic and foreign policy. He says it would provide a balance to the Pentagon.

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Since 1996, Kucinich has represented Ohio's 10th District in Congress. He served one year in the Ohio State Senate in 1995 before heading to Washington. In 1977, the 31-year-old Kucinich became mayor of Cleveland.

Kucinich says as president, he would sign an executive order abolishing capital punishment. And another executive order to repeal the Patriot Act. He's also calling for abolishing nuclear weapons , a biological and chemical weapons convention and increased cooperation with the United Nations and the international criminal court.

People milling about after the hour-long rally seemed impressed by Kucinich. A woman, who didn't give her name, says it's Kucinich's committment to peace that attracts her.

"I believe he has a certain courageousness that I don't really see other people exhibiting. It seems like everybody's keeping something hidden, or to themselves. They seem to be afraid. I don't know what they're afraid of, but this seems to be someone who's willing to put himself out there and take what ever comes for speaking his truth," she said.

This Kucinich supporter says she and others plan to write Kucinich's name on the ballot no matter who wins the endorsement.

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