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Supporters sing Kucinich’s praises

Diana Smith was explaining the song that her husband, Raj Rathor, was about to play on his 12-string guitar for presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

"It’s a little song that starts quiet and slow, and builds and builds and builds," the Las Vegas jazz singer said.

"Just like the Kucinich campaign," said George Matthews, a 52-year-old retiree and fellow Kucinich supporter.

"Yes," Smith said.

Smith and Rathor, volunteer state coordinators for Kucinich’s underdog bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, on Saturday night hosted the candidate at a fundraiser at a local Thai restaurant.

About 60 people paid $25 for dinner and the opportunity to see Kucinich, an Ohio congressman who is making his second bid for the presidency on a peace platform.

The mood was festive and earnest as people sat at long tables getting to know each other. A silent auction was taking bids for stone jewelry, an astrological consultation and Rathor’s CD, "The Dance of the Black Panther."

Although he is considered a fringe candidate, Kucinich has a passionate core of supporters. Smith said he has a purity that takes her back to the 1960s.

"I can’t remember anyone like him, except maybe Robert Kennedy," she said, referring to the Democratic presidential candidate who was assassinated in 1968. "There’s a natural high you get being around someone with so much integrity, someone who’s speaking truth to power."

Kucinich has been a consistent and vocal opponent of the Iraq war and has submitted legislation in the House of Representatives to end it quickly, as well as a bill to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. He proposes creating a Cabinet-level Department of Peace to serve as a counter-balance to what he sees as too much militarism in the rest of the government.

Anger over the war fires many of Kucinich’s fans. Dave Peter, a 54-year-old Clark County worker whose son has served in Afghanistan with the Army, spent 22 years as an intelligence analyst with the Air Force.

"I take it personally every time a GI gets killed," Peter said. "I spent 22 years serving my country, and I never got sent to war for political ambitions and oil companies. I don’t think that’s how our military should be used."

Peter wore a Veterans for Peace button, a sticker reading IMPEACH and a Kucinich 2008 pin. In the Kucinich campaign logo, the first zero in 2008 is a globe, the second a peace symbol.

As Kucinich moved through the restaurant shaking hands Saturday, many in the audience thanked him for championing their causes or complimented him on his performance in recent televised debates. Posing for photos with fans, he raised two fingers in a peace sign.

Before Kucinich could speak, Rathor, a black-clad figure with a long ponytail, serenaded him with the composition he had dedicated to the candidate, entitled "12 Strings Strong." It was a chaotic piece, played partly with a slide, that started out atmospheric, then became hectic and fast. Kucinich took a chair in front, listening intently.

Kucinich told the audience that his campaign was gaining steam beneath the radar.

"What’s happening is that in the last two debates, people have had a chance to see what I’m presenting to the American people, and it’s quite different than what’s being offered by others," he said.

"We have to believe in peace again, and in order to get to peace, we have to have the courage to believe it’s possible."

Kucinich said telecommunication has made the world smaller, while the Human Genome Project has shown "we’re made of the same stuff."

"All this evidence of oneness, of connectedness, it’s not reflected in our politics," he said.

Kucinich, who began his political career on the Cleveland City Council nearly 40 years ago and served two terms as mayor of that city, called for abolishing nuclear weapons and creating a single-payer, government-run universal health care system.

All the other Democratic candidates, he noted, are unwilling to propose health care plans that don’t continue "subsidizing the insurance companies."

"How can you want to be president of the United States and not want to challenge these entrenched industries?" he asked. "How can you even say that?"

Asked about immigration, he decried "a two-tiered labor system … that causes immigrant laborers to be impressed into a form of slavery." He said that as president he would cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement and make trade with Mexico contingent on better labor practices.

He recited in full the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty, saying illegal immigrants have paid their dues and must be allowed to stay in America.

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