WASHINGTON – Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich's future appears bright.
In fact, his re-election campaign is going so well, he apparently doesn't feel the need to return press calls.
The three-term representative was either on vacation or busy courting organizations that could catapult Kucinich to ever-greater political heights this week and couldn't pick up the phone.
In either case, after weeks of trying to schedule the former "boy mayor" for an interview, his staff finally stopped trying to find time for the congressman to answer Foxnews.com requests to speak with the man who some say could become a 2004 presidential contender.
And with such a busy schedule, it comes as little surprise.
Just this past week, the 10th District representative from the greater Cleveland area was keynote speaker at the AFL-CIO dinner in Iowa, a status position that many Democrats covet and only a few true friends of labor win. A week prior, he attended the National Steelworkers Convention that coincided with the Democratic National Committee's summer conference in Las Vegas.
At the end of the month he is headed to Johannesburg, South Africa, for a conference on sustainable development that President Bush refuses to attend. Secretary of State Colin Powell is going in the president's stead.
The ultra-popular congressman walked off from his 2000 general election with 75 percent of the vote after winning 93 percent in the primary. He ran unopposed in this year's primary.
Many attribute his success to statements like the one he made to the AFL-CIO convention.
"The hopes and dreams of the men and women who sent me to Congress are the stars by which I journey. Whenever there is an organizing campaign, a picket line to walk, jobs to save, working conditions to improve, laws to champion, I'm there," Kucinich said.
A lot of voters do not even consider other candidates because "their union rep says 'Dennis is our man,'" said independent Judy Locy, who is running against Kucinich in November's general election.
"He's done nothing to develop new business," she added.
Even Kucinich's Republican opponent in the coming elections, Jon Heben, does not see himself succeeding in the election, saying he realistically hopes to win about 35 percent of the vote.
Why such fascination with the populist congressman who has a ventriloquist dummy of W.C. Fields, is a vegan and hangs around with the likes of conservative pundit Arianna Huffington?
"His personality reflects what the people of Cleveland are thinking about," said Ohio Democratic Party communications director Lauren Worley. "It is the job of the congressman to represent what people of their area want."
Kucinich's populist image is branded in a T-shirt he dons when walking around his hometown neighborhoods. It reads simply: "Dennis!"
He's known as a man of his people and he seems to do everything Cleveland. His official House Web site has a directory of bowling alleys in the region, links to polka Web sites and directions to Cleveland's popular kielbasa restaurants. He's Cleveland to the core.
And it's that centrism that can break the diminutive 51-year-old cut-up, say opponents.
"He works on issues that are popular around here and that don't have anything to do with being a U.S. congressman," Heben said. "He's too much of a populist."
Kucinich's political career began at the early age of 23 when he was elected to Cleveland's City Council. In 1977, at age 31, he was elected mayor of Cleveland.
With its industries struggling and pollution problems in Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, the '70s were a difficult era for Cleveland. The city became the object of ridicule after Kucinich's bold political stances against business interests in the city wound up putting Cleveland into default with the banks.
Afterward, many thought Kucinich's political career was over. But the ever-rejuvenating world of talk radio rehabilitated the man, who later wound up a newscaster for a local television station, and carrying a union card of the AFL-CIO's cameramen's union.
Kucinich was elected to a seat in the Ohio Legislature in 1994. His political comeback continued in 1996 after his rants against the North American Free Trade Agreement won him election to the U.S. Congress.
There, he has not had much success in passing legislation, often times offering amendments and bills to protect clean air, water, food, and union jobs.
He made a name for himself earlier this year by challenging the president's plan for the war against terror at a time when Bush's approval rating was at 90 percent. Kucinich said he believes the United States needs to re-think strategies that could kill innocent Afghan civilians, alienate allies and inflame Mideast tensions.
As time goes on, Kucinich's stance has become more popular. Talks of a presidential run began surfacing for the man who was brave enough to take a stand against Bush.
But Locy argues that Kucinich's stand is unrealistic, especially when compounded with his other views of defense.
"He wants to take $3 billion out of defense to create the Department of Peace," Locy said.
And while his chances may be weak -- "He's too liberal for this country," Heben said -- the man who orates to union members and avoids national press calls, remains an iconic fixture in Ohio's heartland.