In this little pocket of Iowa, houses are built to face the rising sun, something called yogic flying is a popular pastime and Dennis J. Kucinich is a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Even as much of the country still struggles to pronounce his name (it’s koo-SIN-itch), Mr. Kucinich has become a phenomenon in Fairfield, population 9,500. His proposals to promote world peace, universal health care and environmental sustainability arguably resonate here as in no other place in America.
Mr. Kucinich, a congressman for his native Ohio, is polling in the low single digits nationwide, and is not expected to do much better in tomorrow’s Iowa caucuses. But you wouldn’t know that here, where he draws hundreds to every public appearance, and where red, white and blue “Kucinich for President” paraphernalia seems to be part of the town’s permanent aesthetic. In local stores, Mr. Kucinich’s smiling photo is posted among advertisements for white crane tai chi, Himalayan quartz and houses with eastward-facing entrances. “This is a Kucinich town, most definitely,” said Gordon Shackelford, a Fairfield resident and Vietnam veteran who counts himself as a Wesley K. Clark supporter. “He’s got this really quirky appeal, and there’s plenty of quirky people here.”
Mr. Kucinich, a vegan, who has proposed a cabinet-level Department of Peace, is not a typical candidate. And Fairfield, despite its picturesque town square and fluttering American flags, is not a typical Iowan town. The home of Maharishi University of Management and a center of the Global Country of World Peace, Fairfield and the surrounding area is home to 2,000 practitioners of Transcendental Meditation who began settling there in the early 1970’s.
Hundreds of Fairfield residents now bike, walk and drive to twin 25,000-square-foot golden domes, which rise like gilded breasts from the Midwestern plains, to practice deep Transcendental Meditation twice a day. Through yogic flying, a kind of seated hopping levitation that practitioners believe can lead to enlightenment, their collective mission is to bring peace to the world.
“The main appeal is that he has established himself vocally as a peace candidate,” said John Hagelin, a Fairfield resident and the founder of the New Age-oriented Natural Law Party, who himself has run for president several times. “This is a town dedicated to peace, to work for peace for the world and to radiate peace in the world.”
While Mr. Kucinich does not practice Transcendental Meditation, after he was voted out of office as mayor of Cleveland in 1979 he did spend time in New Mexico and California finding what he describes as inner peace. “It’s so humbling being here in your presence,” he began at an event on Jan. 10, “because stepping into this moment you can sense this field of energy which is created by all the shared aspirations for peace — the energy and the light which is present right at this moment. You can feel it. It’s palpable.”
“For ourselves, for each other, think of the possibility to literally lift up this world, to lift it up from war,” he said to great applause.
His message tends to draw supporters by the hundreds. (He’s been here four times; other candidates have been only once or twice.) A few months ago, 200 people showed up at an organic dairy farm to hear Mr. Kucinich speak in the rain. When he spoke last Saturday, some 350 people came to a private dessert reception at which only 150 to 200 were expected after a local radio station accidentally announced that he would be appearing. (A recent appearance by John Kerry, meanwhile, drew maybe a hundred people.)
Mr. Kucinich has had an especially deep impact on the students at the private Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, where children from preschool through 12th grade meditate twice a day and classroom posters include “50 qualities of the unified field” among geology maps.
The high school students were so moved after hearing Mr. Kucinich speak that they created a peace award and presented it to him with a poem in his honor. “Everyone here knows what it is like to have peace,” said Wes Dearborn, a 16-year-old student. “They want the rest of the country to feel it too. Dennis is the one who can take us there.”
One key to Mr. Kucinich’s support in Fairfield is his longtime friendship with Mr. Hagelin, the three-time presidential candidate of the Natural Law Party, who has endorsed Mr. Kucinich. “Here was a mainstream Democrat that really presents all the contents that the Natural Law Party wants to see espoused,” said Ed Malloy, the mayor of Fairfield, and a supporter of the Natural Law Party. “They were excited that these ideas could move on the agenda.”
In addition to Mr. Kucinich’s plan for a Department of Peace, which would emphasize preventive techniques against violence, supporters are drawn to his plan for universal health coverage, one that would embrace alternative medical techniques like acupuncture. They also like his belief in environmental sustainability, an issue dear to a community that embraces organic farming.
“Dennis is the only candidate who will go to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and do something about genetically engineered food,” said Eileen Dannemann, a Fairfield resident.
To be sure, not everyone in Fairfield supports Mr. Kucinich, and not all those who support Mr. Kucinich practice Transcendental Meditation. In fact, Jefferson County, home to Fairfield, is a “red” county, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 2 to 1. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney won 53 percent of the vote in 2000. Howard Dean also has broad support in the Fairfield area because of his opposition to the war.
Mr. Kucinich’s supporters say their effort is not wasted even if Mr. Kucinich’s long-shot bid doesn’t win the nomination. Even the national front-runners would envy the devotion Fairfield-area residents have for Mr. Kucinich.
Lynn Kaplan, a local resident, said she was so impressed by Mr. Kucinich that she produced a 12-minute documentary about him that his campaign now distributes on hundreds of CD’s. “I’ve never been interested in politics, not since I was 16 years old with Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy,” said Ms. Kaplan, who is in her 50’s. Then she saw Mr. Kucinich speak at the Best Western last winter. “I couldn’t leave. The guy moved me deeply. I knew at that moment that hope was reborn in my heart,” she said.