Kucinich visits, testing the waters

OLYMPIA — Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is returning to Washington state for events this weekend as Democrats debate whether he should be welcomed as a potential candidate here in 2012.

Kucinich expects that his current congressional seat will be eliminated when Ohio redraws district boundaries in the coming months. If that happens, Kucinich said he will consider moving to another state but has declined to discuss potential locations. He told supporters in an email that he’s received inquiries across the country – from Washington to Maine.

Washington state is gaining a congressional seat in the redistricting process, and Kucinich frequently visits as a guest of advocates who agree with his message.

“I’m grateful to be invited by labor and environmentalists and peace activists and Democratic activists – to speak with them and share ideas,” Kucinich said in an interview. “The kind of thinking that helps inform new directions for America starts in places like Washington state.”

That doesn’t mean Kucinich will get a warm welcome if he tries to make the move. Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington state Democratic Party, said Kucinich called this week and indicated that he was looking at running in the state next year.

Kucinich spokesman Nathan White said Pelz may have misinterpreted the conversation and that the congressman simply made contact to be polite due to rumors about his future.

Either way, Pelz told Kucinich that he didn’t support the idea.

“He is not an attractive candidate for Congress in Washington state,” Pelz said. “We could lose if he was our candidate.”

Pelz is particularly concerned because he expects two potentially open seats – one in the new 10th District, and the 1st District seat currently held by Rep. Jay Inslee, who may run for governor – will be competitive.

Kucinich’s politics would be better aligned with somewhere such as the Seattle-heavy 7th District, currently represented by Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott, Pelz said.

McDermott and Kucinich both hail from the more liberal edges of the Democratic Party. The 1st District covering northern Seattle suburbs was a swing district in the 1990s, although Inslee has won re-election consistently in recent years.

This weekend, Kucinich is scheduled to make six stops in Seattle and surrounding areas, ending with a speech Sunday at the Green Festival. He is also attending two local Democratic fundraisers.

Martin Chaney, who leads the 45th District Democrats and will host Kucinich at a fundraiser Saturday, said Kucinich has a lot of supporters within the organization. Chaney himself came into the Democratic party in 2004 because of the message Kucinich was offering, and Chaney expects to support Kucinich if the congressman moves to Washington.

“There are a lot of us who find him to be an inspirational speaker who manages to articulate things we feel strongly about,” Chaney said.

Kucinich sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2004 and 2008. The 64-year-old has roots in his hometown of Cleveland, where he was mayor and first ran for city council at age 21.