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Kucinich: fervently unconventional

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As an unabashed liberal, Kucinich stands apart from the other candidates. Earnest as a prophet, he proclaims the need for a single-payer national healthcare system - as do Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun. But he is the only to have offered a congressional bill, outlining a concrete plan. And while Howard Dean has been an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq, Kucinich is the only candidate to have actually cast a vote against the resolution approving the US invasion. He also continues to call for the immediate withdrawal of US troops.

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He also proclaims he would extend free public education all the way through college (which he implies would be paid for by reducing the Pentagon budget and repealing the Bush tax cuts), decriminalize marijuana, and ban genetically modified organisms. He also envisions a cabinet-level Department of Peace, which would, according to his platform, redirect 1 percent of the Pentagon budget to "establish non-violence as an organizing principle in both domestic and international affairs."

Though most find such ideas audacious, they rarely find Kucinich politically calculating or insincere, and this has won him a number of admirers.

Momentary boost

The next day, as Kucinich bounds up the steps of the Simon Center at New England College, Eleanor Kjellman stands beaming on the porch above him, waiting to shake his hand.

The blue campaign button on her coat is blazoned with CLARK04, but while watching the nine candidates debate, she, too, had been most impressed by the strength and poise of the Ohio congressman. Kjellman and her husband, John, both longtime residents in Henniker, were so thrilled they came to offer a show of support.

"We just wanted to thank you for speaking out the other night," she says as Kucinich hops up and clasps her outstretched hand. "You really took charge there and said what needed to be said." Still, while the Kjellmans smile and explain how the others lack his earnest, no-nonsense style, they later concede Kucinich "probably doesn't have a chance" - and that they don't intend to stop supporting Wesley Clark.

Call it voter sophistication or just a sympathetic respect for a futile, quixotic campaign, but so far, many of his new admirers haven't become actual supporters. Although he has raised about $5 million this year - a respectable amount for his type of campaign - this is far less than top-tier candidates like Dr. Dean, and Kucinich's poll numbers languish at 1 to 3 percent.

Still, he has overcome enormous obstacles throughout his life. The oldest of seven children, Kucinich grew up in an Ohio family that struggled with poverty. They moved to 21 places - "including a couple cars," he says - by the time he was 17. And despite being a flyweight 5-foot-6 kid in high school, he went out for football and made third-string quarterback.

He entered politics at a very young age, winning a seat on the Cleveland City Council when he was 23. Eight years later, in 1977, he ran for mayor and became the youngest person ever to head a major US city. After hiring and then firing a popular police chief, however, he barely survived a recall a year later.

While mayor, he also refused to sell the city-owned utility, Muny Light. A number of the city's creditors were demanding he sell the power company to a private competitor, and when Mayor Kucinich refused, they called in $15 million of Cleveland's debt, plunging the city into default. Kucinich lost the next election.