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Kucinich: fervently unconventional

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Still, he has overcome enormous obstacles throughout his life. The oldest of seven children, Kucinich grew up in an Ohio family that struggled with poverty. They moved to 21 places - "including a couple cars," he says - by the time he was 17. And despite being a flyweight 5-foot-6 kid in high school, he went out for football and made third-string quarterback.

He entered politics at a very young age, winning a seat on the Cleveland City Council when he was 23. Eight years later, in 1977, he ran for mayor and became the youngest person ever to head a major US city. After hiring and then firing a popular police chief, however, he barely survived a recall a year later.

While mayor, he also refused to sell the city-owned utility, Muny Light. A number of the city's creditors were demanding he sell the power company to a private competitor, and when Mayor Kucinich refused, they called in $15 million of Cleveland's debt, plunging the city into default. Kucinich lost the next election.

Over a decade later, most observers believed his refusal to sell Muny saved taxpayers more than $200 million. The stage was set for a political comeback. Using a light bulb as his campaign symbol, Kucinich won a seat in the Ohio State Senate in 1994 and then a seat in the US House in 1996. In 2002, he won his district with 74 percent of the vote.

An overt spirituality

There is a mystical quality to the boyish Cleveland congressman, and he may be the most overtly spiritual of the Democratic candidates. Some have described him as fiery, but when his oratory becomes animated, it can seem more an enlivened gentleness. He often pauses when he speaks - long pauses with vacant stares that seem like contemplation. Indeed, in his introductions at campaign appearances, he always tells his audience that his politics is grounded in "a spiritual sense of the interconnectedness of the world," and he nearly always invokes the Gospels in explaining the themes of his campaign.

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