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Kucinich: fervently unconventional

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And though he comes from the Rust Belt shores of Lake Erie, he often speaks more as a New England transcendentalist, straight from Walden Pond. "We need to be certain that we have agricultural policies that are rooted in a philosophy which connects us to the power of nature itself," Kucinich tells the bundled-up country folk gathered in the shed. "We need to recognize the important role agriculture plays - like Derek's cap says, 'Farm Here to Eternity.' "

One of his top priorities as president, he explains, would be to break up the big corporations that control the food supply and threaten the small farmers who have long been the foundation of American democracy. In the same 19th-century vein, Kucinich often urges his audiences to read Emerson's "Self-Reliance," an essay he says he's read at least once a year since he was a boy. "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string," he often quotes. "To believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, - that is genius."

Nonconformists, however, are by definition few and far between, and Kucinich is near the bottom of the polls. Beyond this band of pastoral farmers, few have even heard of Dennis Kucinich - "Is he the one with the ears?"

Yet it's become a refrain as he travels the well-worn New Hampshire campaign trail: When people do hear him speak, many admire his passion and "spin free" fervor. As co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Kucinich has been one of the most outspoken liberal voices in the Democratic Party. Since he stakes out positions that a more cautious candidate might consider, well, politically eccentric, some voters find him both curious and refreshing - though they think he cannot win. "The others, they're all so boring - except for Kucinich," says Ms. Obelenus. "Sure, he's a long shot, but at first you've got to vote on principle, don't you?" But then, hesitating, she asks with a worried tone, "Do you think I'm throwing away my vote?"

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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