Democrat Mike Gravel, who has made immediate withdrawal from Iraq the centerpiece of his low-profile campaign, flew into Salt Lake City on Sunday mainly to participate in a panel discussion Monday night on politics in film.
The 77-year-old former U.S. senator from Alaska is on the ballot in about 20 states, including Utah's Feb. 5 Democratic primary.
He hasn't received much attention since the fall, when he took part in several televised presidential debates. That spotlight went dim when polls showed him lagging, though he blames his debate exclusion on a conspiracy between Democratic Party leaders and the networks.
"They found that embarrassing that I would talk about the war and say, sure this is president Bush's Republican war, but the Democrats went along," Gravel said in a telephone interview Monday.
"I can get the troops out of Iraq in 120 days," said Gravel, who made his name in the U.S. Senate during the Vietnam war as an outspoken opponent of the military draft and is known for reading the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record.
He dismissed claims that sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops would incite a chaotic bloodbath, saying Iraqis are "exhausted. These people want peace."
While he is a lifelong Democrat, Gravel is anything but a partisan cheerleader.
Of the top-tier Democratic presidential hopefuls, Sen. Hillary Clinton "clearly could do a lot better job because of her maturity," he said. But he wouldn't vote for her any more than he would Barack Obama or John Edwards.
Republicans offer even worse choices, said Gravel, calling the GOP presidential field "horrific."
Utah Democratic Chairman Wayne Holland said Gravel's take on the war and other issues was recognized as a valuable voice in the campaign debate early on. But that has changed.
"He seemed to become kind of the angry old guy that just seemed to want to become angrier," said Holland. "He never was going to be the nominee but he had a voice, it just got more screechy."
Holland said the question of why Gravel is still campaigning when he has lost credibility within his own party is one "I can't answer. He just seems a little bit like the dog in the manger."
Gravel acknowledges it is a "pretty fair assumption" that he won't get the Democratic nomination, but he is a long way from giving up fighting for it.
Gravel says he's in for the long haul
Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel will leave Utah and head to Florida today to campaign. And he will continue through Super Tuesday (Feb. 5) and beyond, with the help of funds he hopes to raise through sales of a forthcoming book, Citizen Power.