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Party should listen to Kucinich

Maybe offering voters a clear choice isn't such a bad idea after all

The Democratic nomination for president is long since sewn up. So why is Dennis Kucinich still running?

No, he hasn't lost his mind. He has his reasons ' and the national Democratic Party leadership would do well to pay attention.

The four-term Ohio congressman has no illusions about actually winning the nomination. And he's not out to scuttle the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry. Unlike Ralph Nader, who's running as an independent, Kucinich won't be on the general election ballot.

He's running because he wants to influence the direction of the Democratic Party, to make sure the issues he and his supporters most care about get addressed at the national level. And he thinks Oregon is his best chance to accomplish that.

Judging by the crowds he's attracting, he might not be far wrong. Hundreds turned out to hear him speak in Portland Friday. He drew sizable crowds in Eugene, and even in Roseburg.

In Ashland on Monday, about 300 gathered to listen at a daytime event on the Southern Oregon University campus.

— Kucinich wants his party to focus on issues he says should define the Democrats: universal health care, international trade and the outsourcing of American jobs, an end to American involvement in Iraq, and a restoration of the civil liberties curtailed by the Patriot Act.

The party, he says, has to demonstrate to Americans that they have something to gain by voting Democratic.

Kucinich just may be on to something. Since Kerry won enough delegates to guarantee him the nomination, the campaign for president has been more a battle of personalities than a debate over issues.

The Bush campaign has focused on attacking Kerry's Senate record in an attempt to frighten voters about what Kerry might do if elected.

Kerry's effort, aside from fending off attacks from Bush, has been more about what's gone wrong with the country since 2000 than about where he wants it to go in the future.

An oft-heard complaint in presidential election years is that there is little real difference between the Democratic candidate and the Republican. In an effort to appeal to the political center, where presidential elections are decided, the parties have contributed to that perception.

Kucinich understands that many voters need a reason to care who wins. They want a clear choice.

That such a choice can emerge this year may be wishful thinking. But count us among those who would find it refreshing.