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Originally published August 4, 2011 at 8:47 PM | Page modified August 5, 2011 at 9:33 AM

Kucinich draws cheers at state labor-council convention

Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich's flirtation with running for office in Washington has been met with open hostility on the part of state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz. But Kucinich is back in the state again this week at the invitation of the Washington State Labor Council.

Seattle Times political reporter

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Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich's flirtation with running for office in Washington has been met with open hostility on the part of state Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz.

But don't tell that to one of the party's key constituencies: unions.

Kucinich returned to the state again this week at the invitation of the Washington State Labor Council, which gave him two prime speaking slots at its annual convention in SeaTac.

Although Kucinich says he hasn't decided on his political future, the enthusiastic reception he received at the union gathering Thursday suggests that, despite party leaders' wishes, he has developed a core of supporters who would back a run here.

Kucinich arrived to a hero's welcome Thursday. He was ushered into the convention hall by dozens of union activists wearing yellow T-shirts that read: "Dennis!"

"I've followed Dennis for years. He's a voice of moral authority in the politics we have at this time," said Peter Goodman, an organizer for the International Association of Heat & Frost Insulators & Allied Workers, who was wearing a Kucinich shirt.

State Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, said she "absolutely" hopes Kucinich will run for Congress here. "I don't care where he lives. It's where he stands that's important."

Addressing hundreds of union delegates inside the SeaTac Doubletree Hotel ballroom, Kucinich delivered a fiery speech that had the crowd repeatedly rising to its feet and joining him in chants of "We are union!"

A two-time presidential candidate who has represented a West Cleveland district since 1997, Kucinich called for guaranteed health care, education and employment for all Americans and mocked those who question how the nation could pay for such programs.

"They never ask that question when it comes to war. They never ask that question when it comes to bailing out Wall Street," he said.

While making no reference to his own political plans during his speech, Kucinich did highlight some local connections.

In particular, he boasted of his support of the National Labor Relations Board's complaint that Boeing located a new 787 production line in South Carolina to punish Washington unions for strikes.

"When they attacked the Boeing workers by moving the plant to South Carolina, they attacked all workers everywhere," Kucinich said, drawing an extended ovation from the Machinist union's contingent.

Kucinich's stance on the NLRB complaint has been louder than the relatively muted response from Washington's congressional delegation. That hasn't gone unnoticed by union leaders.

"For our delegation to say they don't want to politicize this, certainly there is merit in that," said Larry Brown, legislative and political director for the International Association of Machinists.

"But we are taking a beating from the other side," he said, referring to efforts by Republicans in Congress to block the NLRB complaint. "There haven't been the same kind of affirmative statements from our friends."

Sen. Patty Murray did join nine Democratic senators in writing to the NLRB's general counsel in May, urging the agency to ignore pressure from Republicans, and saying the case "should be determined based on the facts and the law, not based on politics."

Kucinich's look at running here has been prompted by reports that his own Ohio district may be carved up in redistricting.

For a Democrat even considering a run for office here, Kucinich's appearance at the labor event was a prime-time opportunity. In addition to the Thursday speech, Kucinich is speaking Friday at a lunch of union leaders.

Meanwhile, several declared candidates for the 1st Congressional District, which Kucinich is thought to be eying, have been invited to give short speeches bunched together on the final day of the convention Saturday. They include Democratic state Reps. Roger Goodman and Marko Liias and former state Rep. Laura Ruderman.

Pelz, the state Democratic Party chairman, has said he fears a Kucinich candidacy would hurt Democrats' chances of hanging on to that seat.

Pelz said Thursday that while Kucinich may have given an appealing speech for union members, "it doesn't mean he can or should represent the people of a state he has never lived in."

Kucinich, in an interview, said he still hasn't decided where he'll run in 2012 or even which way he is leaning.

But Kucinich said we'll continue to see him in Washington.

"I like coming here," he said. "It's friendly and I feel at home. I keep getting invitations. Now the invitations are starting to come in several a week."

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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