WASHINGTON, March 2 (UPI) -- Members of the House of Representatives almost never succeed when they run for president from their congressional seat. The last to do it successfully was Ohio Republican James A. Garfield in 1880. Many more have tried, before and since, to no avail.
In the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, at least two current members of the House are making a bid for their party's nomination and one of them, Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, should enliven the race considerably.
Kucinich rocketed to fame in the late 1970s when, as "The Boy Mayor of Cleveland" as he was known, he led the city to default, the first bankruptcy of a major U.S. city since the Great Depression.
Now the congressman, still looking boyish, is positioning himself as the one Democrat willing to tell the truth about Iraq. Undoubtedly, he will place before the voters propositions that would otherwise go unsaid. More conventional politicians, who are content to rely on platitudes and bromides to win votes, would likely eschew his brand of truth.
Kucinich will not be the "tell it like it is" Democrat to those members of his party who oppose abortion.
His newfound position on the issue is billed as an expansion of his thinking and he claims to never have supported the effort to overturn the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
In fact, Kucinich has committed what in political circles is known as a "flip-flop." Writing last year in National Review Online, the States News Service's David Enrich observed that Kucinich had a "consistently pro-life voting record" during his first six years in Congress.
Like other Democrats who aspire to the nation's highest office, Kucinich has come to terms with a fact of political life: a Democrat cannot win the presidential nomination if he opposes legal abortion. The voice of radical feminists and absolutists on the abortion issue is far too strong within the party, demanding that presidential contenders have a pro-legalized abortion position to even be considered a viable contender.
The clout they exercise is evidenced by the support of EMILY's List, a group that bundles campaign contributions to pro-abortion rights Democrats in the primary season.
In 2002, the group raised nearly $23 million, using it to help Michigan's Jennifer Granholm and Kansas's Kathleen Sebilius win the Democratic nomination and the governorship.
In Arizona, EMILY's List made substantial contributions to the state Democratic Party to help Janet Napolitano win election as governor. Now, partly because of changes in campaign finance laws, EMILY's List is branching out into the arena of state legislative politics, training candidates and staff on how to win elections.
This wing of the party is better organized and more vocal than the smaller pro-life wing, exerting almost total control over the nominating process.
Consider Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who served two terms as governor of Pennsylvania, the nation's fourth-largest state. He held firm to his pro-life position as part of a visible expression of his Catholic faith; one that led him to the conclusion that the duty of a Catholic is to protect the innocent, especially an unborn child.
In 1992, Casey asked the organizers of the Democratic National Convention for a chance to speak from the podium about the issue. Despite his reputation as a popular politician in a populous and politically pivotal state, the DNC organizers refused the request.
I stand on opposite sides from Kucinich on many issues we both think important as I did with Casey. However, one thing I always admired in both men was their fervor for a cause they believed right. Until now, Kucinich never seemed to be one who put much stock in political correctness.
If he is smart, he will look hard at the current field of Democrats, think hard about what will really distinguish his candidacy, and consider staying pro-life.
The abortion supporters might dominate his party, but as one of at least nine candidates for the nomination, keeping firm to his previous stand might help him break out of a crowded field in the early primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Kucinich could explain it this way: in the end, he wanted to follow his conscience
He cannot move farther out on the fringe of the issue than candidates like Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., or former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. He can sound an appeal to conscience that emphasizes there is no better way for the party that prides itself as being the champion of the little guy to demonstrate that commitment by speaking up on behalf of the unborn.
Many Democrats I met during more than four decades working in the political trenches at least began as pro-life and anti-war. Many of them left their party and became independents or Republicans because of the Democratic Party's insistence on being the party of legal abortion. In the open primary or caucus states, Kucinich could use his historical stand to drive a wedge into the field and bring home many Democrats who are simply waiting for an invitation.
I believe that Kucinich can do justice to his candidacy and his cause on Iraq by telling Americans that he let his conscience dictate his conviction on the abortion issue and that the Democrat Party can stand to gain by allowing pro-life Democrats a real voice within their own party.
Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.
Outside View commentaries are written for UPI by outside writers who specialize in subjects of public interest.