One of things that most debate moderators found so frustrating about Kucinich was his determination to talk about the bread-and-butter issues that matter most to working Americans, rather than to play their games. Kucinich forced the anchormen and the reporters, as well as the other candidates, to pay a little attention to the problems of factory workers, shop clerks and farmers. There is no question that the Ohioan's determination to do this influenced more prominent and well-funded contenders, especially former North Carolina Senator John Edwards.
Dennis's critics have charged -- falsely or erroneously -- that he has neglected his district for his presidential campaigns. That is true of the two senators running for president on the Democratic side; the senator (McCain) from the Republican side; and the Representative from the Republican side (Paul -- who has missed roughly twice as many votes as Kucinich). As Nichols points out:
Kucinich, who flew to Cleveland rather than to South Carolina or California after the New Hampshire primary in which his campaign received more votes than the "serious" candidacy of debate-regular and one-time media darling Fred Thompson, was anything but an absentee congressman during his presidential run. If anything, the congressman neglected the national race in order to spend time in his district and on the floor of the House -- where he maintained a far steadier attendance record than the senators against whom he was running for the presidential nomination.
The congressman's greatest attention to his district during the course of the presidential campaign took the form of his focus on the economic issues that are most important to a working-class district that includes portions of the city of Cleveland and neighboring blue-collar suburbs. Even as he discussed the essential subject of the war in Iraq, Kucinich usually did so in the context of a discussion about the cost the war was imposing not just on the distant battlefields of Iraq but on the American cities from which needed federal funds have been diverted to fund a fool's mission in the Middle East.
Dennis Kucinich knew he didn't stand a chance of winning the presidential nomination; he knew full well that the moneyed elites would never let him or any other Progressive candidate participate. So winning the nomination was never his mission. His goal, from the very beginning, was to help bring the issues that truly matter to Americans to the forefront of the political discussion and keep it there. If he hadn't, then who would have? Certainly not Barack "the Republicans were the party of ideas" Obama, or Hillary "it's all about me" Clinton. John Edwards has actually spoken like a populist, a progressive-in-training, but unlike Dennis his record in Congress hasn't been consistent with his campaign rhetoric. I could never get over the feeling that if not for candidates like Kucinich and Mike Gravel, Edwards would not have had the courage to run as he has thus far.
As we head into Super Tuesday, and as the Democratic race likely comes down to a choice between two corporate, status quo candidates, the absence of Dennis Kucinich's Progressive voice makes the entire political discussion far emptier than it would have been had he been allowed to participate.