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I’m protecting Kerry’s left flank, says Kucinich

As he continues his quixotic campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is positioning himself as the man who can protect Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) left flank from Ralph Nader.
The Hill
June 9, 2004

"It's important that Democrats know that there are people, leading spokespersons in the party, for peace, for civil liberties, for healthcare, fair trade ... so that they can't say, 'The Democrats don't represent me,'" Kucinich said in a wide-ranging interview with The Hill last week.

"Well, I'm a Democrat and I speak to those issues and I think what I'm giving the party is an ability to bring people in who might otherwise be inclined to not support Democrats."

Kucinich added, "Isn't it much better to have [liberal ideas] expressed through the person of another Democrat than to have it expressed through the person of a third-party candidate? I mean, this is where it makes a difference, and this is where it could make all the difference in the general election."

However, even though many Democrats remain angry about what they see as another attempt by Nader to thwart a Democratic presidential nominee, as they feel he did in 2000, Nader himself said Kucinich is "happy" that the consumer activist is again running for president.

"He's pleased that I'm carrying his kind of agenda through to Election Day," Nader told The Hill on Monday.

Informed that Kucinich sees himself as keeping Nader from drawing votes from Kerry, Nader said, "I don't know what he means by that because he's told people that he's happy I'm going to go right through" to election day.

Asked when Kucinich made such remarks, Nader responded, "Privately, to other people."

Kucinich, who was on the ballot in the final round of Democratic primaries yesterday in Montana and New Jersey, clearly plans to remain a candidate until the Democratic convention in late July in an effort to gain a position of influence in the fall campaign.

Kucinich, who noted that he and Nader have been friends "for over 30 years," said his ability to dissuade liberal voters from joining Nader "could prove to be pivotal" in the general election.

Kucinich denied that he will endorse Nader and balked at the mere questioning of his own Democratic credentials. "Even being asked that question shows a lack, you know, of attention to this race," he said.

Although Kucinich appeared with Nader as recently as last October at a rally hosted by Democracy Rising, an organization founded by Nader, Doug Gordon, Kucinich's press secretary, ruled out the possibility that Kucinich will support anybody but the presumptive nominee, Kerry.

Gordon said Kucinich "supported and actively campaigned for Al Gore [in 2000], and he has repeatedly stated both publicly and privately that he will support the Democratic nominee this year."

Nader, who endorsed Kucinich for president in January, a month before announcing his own bid for president, said he does not expect any kind of endorsement from Kucinich because "there's a limit. He is a Democrat. There's a limit to what I can expect of him."

But the former Green Party presidential candidate, who is now running as an independent, also said he doesn't believe Kucinich will merely sing the Kerry campaign's praises. Using Kucinich to appeal to liberal voters "is a good strategy for [the Democrats], but I don't think [Kucinich] is going to play into their hands," he declared.

Many Democrats blame Nader for Gore's defeat four years ago. Though he received less than 3 percent of the national popular vote, Nader gained 97,000 votes in Florida alone, where Gore lost by a mere 537 votes.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), perhaps Nader's most vocal critic during the 2000 election, praised Kucinich for staying "within the Democratic Party." He cited Kucinich's presence in the primary debates, stating that, "Nader could have done all that. ... He should have followed Dennis's example."

Kucinich's role at the convention is still unclear. Lina Garcia, a spokeswoman for the convention, said, "The schedule is being created as we speak." Kucinich has appointed Jerry Wilson, creator of the Soloflex exercise machine, as his nonvoting delegate to the platform-drafting committee.

Ed Kilgore, policy director of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, did not seem concerned about Kucinich's role in the general election either. "We're happy he wants to help," he said. "The closer we get to the Nader threat the more the Nader threat will recede."

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