by Julia Reynolds
Congressman Dennis Kucinich, weary from a dozen campaign stops in a week, sat in a small room at the Monterey fairgrounds on Sunday, but he had a look in his eyes that said he knew he wouldn’t sit for long.
Still, his expression seemed to lighten as he recalled his comedic success last week as a guest on The Colbert Report, the farcical news show on “Comedy Central.”
“The secret of it,” he said, pausing for effect, “Don’t try to be funny.”
Only then did he let out a laugh.
The presidential hopeful was energized by a straw poll taken Sunday in San Mateo County, where he came in second after John Edwards as the favored Democratic candidate.
“That shows that I am electable,” he said. “That was very powerful, a sign of rising support because of the stand I take for peace – including standing up against war with Iran.”
He seized the moment to come out with perhaps his strongest stance to date toward impeaching President George W. Bush.
“I’m going to talk to members of Congress this week and tell them taking impeachment off the table is a big mistake,” he said.
Kucinich was moved to take action, he said, in part because of Bush’s recent suggestion to reporters that a world war with Iran might be imminent, leading Kucinich to wonder “whether he’s playing with Armageddon or he’s not well.”
“The world can’t countenance the president of the United States raising the specter of World War III,” he said. “A president must be temperate with his words.”
Kucinich was in town to introduce the political rock-reggae-hip hop of Michael Franti and Spearhead on Sunday night at the Monterey Music Summit.
“I’m here to be with my friend Michael Franti. He’s one of the most exciting performers,” he said. “He’s thoughtful, he’s deep and he’s a humanitarian.”
Kucinich, who announced his plans to run once more for president last December, has said he favors immediate U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, opting for a multi-national stabilization force to maintain order.
He was also in California pushing for single-payer health-care coverage.
“All other candidates want to keep our for-profit health care system,” he said, while he is pushing his congressional bill HR 676, which would expand the Medicare program to cover all virtually Americans.
“These are very powerful issues for Californians,” he said.
Kucinich said he was surprised by the popularity he’s gained after his debut on “Comedy Central.”
Hollywood actors have telephoned, he said, and videos of his performance are circulating all over the Internet.
“When people saw Colbert, they really responded,” he said, “They like to think their president has a sense of perspective.”
He said the appearance came off pretty well, considering that members of Congress have been warned not to appear on the show, where they’re likely to face skewering by host Stephen Colbert’s acid tongue.
Kucinich said it was his chaotic life that gave him a sense of humor.
“I moved around a lot, been through political ups and downs,” he said. “I don’t take myself seriously, but I take the issues very seriously.”
Other candidates, he said, could stand to lighten up a little. Well, he didn’t exactly say it that way.
“I hear one of the candidates announced they’re going to be funny,” he said in the deadpan style that seemed to win him fans on “Comedy Central.”
On that show, Kucinich pulled off a now near-famous routine about what he carries in his pockets, because he had previously showed off his pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution on national television.
Most of the shtick was built around the fact that he reportedly also carries tea bags in his pockets.
“I usually do have a tea bag,” he said, fishing through wads of business cards and few crumpled dollar bills before finally producing a bag of green tea. It was “Choice Organic Tea,” according to the label.
He had already flashed his copy of the Constitution at the fairgrounds, and had pointed to the autograph of elder statesman Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., on the first page.
“Don’t leave home without it,” he said, sliding it into a breast pocket.
Despite tireless campaigning that now includes his wife, Elizabeth, and her mother, Julia Massey, who came out from the London area to traipse 10 days through the U.S. Southwest, in polls Kucinich has trailed well behind candidates whose campaign chests are packed much fuller.
Though he also trailed in the 2004 primaries, his numbers in online polls kept showing promise and he continued to campaign right up to the Democratic National Convention, saying he still wanted to influence the party’s agenda.
In fact, he was the very last candidate to call it quits before John Kerry got the nomination. Which may say a thing or two about his tenacity, if nothing else.
He gave every indication he’ll show similar determination in Campaign 2008.
“I’m in this absolutely,” he said. “This tide keeps building. It’s not about me. What I stand for resonates in peoples hearts.”
With that, he braced for another interview before heading off to take the stage.
Julia Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or email@example.com.
© 2007 The Monterey County Herald