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Winning a losing campaign
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"He breathes life into everything that is American," a young man said as he stood on the top step of the classical Greek promenade that fronts the Albemarle County Office Building. Two trucks from local news stations were parked at the bottom. Inside, presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich schmoozed with those fortunate enough to have $500 to give to his campaign, and in the lobby volunteers walked around with clipboards begging anyone they could to sign a petition to get the Democrat from Ohio on the state ballot.
"I thought about what it would be like to rediscover our potential," Kucinich told the crowd of several hundred. "It would be like as if we discovered fire for the second time."
Back outside, the man explained that he is best friends with one of Kucinich’s daughters, and works in PR in Washington, D.C. This morning, he got a call from the candidate asking him to come along on his tour of Virginia. After tonight’s speech, they are on to Manassas.
Only minutes earlier, they had arrived at the side entrance, where David Swanson (co-founder of AfterDowningStreet.org) and a volunteer struggled to direct the small, silver SUV bearing Kucinich. The candidate was then swiftly ushered into the parking lot and in through the front entrance into room 235 where news cameras and two reporters were waiting. Hardly anyone seemed to notice.
"Why come to Charlottesville?" a TV reporter demanded.
"Because of the depth of support we’ve found over the years, and I will be campaigning here," Kucinich replied, looking straight ahead with a fixed smile, his eyes wrinkled in a bemused fashion. "Virginia’s politics have changed over the last few years, as we all know. And I think that Virginia responds to a strong and independent-minded approach that is fearless and willing to challenge the status quo. So here I am."
An hour later, he was in Lane Auditorium, standing in front of a nearly packed room already prepped by a bluegrass duo and four speakers, including Mayor David Brown. Brown welcomed Kucinich to town by explaining that, of all his bumper stickers, it’s the Kucinich sticker from 2004 that gets the most comments. "I think that reflects the fact that what Charlottesville believes…Dennis Kucinich is close to a perfect fit. Wouldn’t you agree?"
The few hundred there seemed to share the mayor’s opinion, announcing so when Kucinich finally stepped onto the stage. "Hello, Charlottesville!" he exclaimed to whoops and ecstatic applause. "What a turnout. Holy smokes!
"As I was waiting in the room next door there’s a candle that has a single filament that lights it, and it caused me to think about what it must have been like hundreds of years ago here when candles flickered in the window. It’s the image of light which attracts me to the potential of our nation," he said, quoting the Psalms and referencing a Latin phrase from his school days that translated to "send forth your light, and your truth."
Referencing Thomas Jefferson, Kucinich read from the Declaration of Independence before turning to another of the country’s founding documents. Two weeks before, Swanson had said that Kucinich was "making the Constitution a big part of his campaign," and the rest of the evening was a discussion of that.
Kucinich has endeared himself in recent years partly by demanding the ouster of our current president. "They say impeachment is off the table," he said, holding up a small copy of the Constitution. "Well, I’m putting this on the table," he said and slapped it down on the wood dais in front of the podium. That its maroon cover made it look almost like a Bible seemed appropriate. If anything, we were witnessing a sermon devoted to a a secular scripture, the Genesis and Exodus of the U.S.
By the end of his speech Kucinich had brought us back to the lighted candle he had witnessed two hours earlier. "I thought about the scripture that tells us that we should send forth our light," he said. "And I thought about those lights from candlelit windows all over this area hundreds of years ago. And I thought about what it would be like to rediscover our potential," he said, dropping his voice to almost a whisper for dramatic effect. "It would be like as if we discovered fire for the second time," the candidate finished, and raised his hands triumphantly. "Thank you."
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