CLEVELAND — At a rally here this month with hundreds of labor leaders, public officials and community supporters, Dennis Kucinich kicked off his campaign for a seventh term in Congress, defiantly blasting corporate interests seeking to unseat him.

Kucinich told the Jan. 9 gathering, which followed the monthly meeting of the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor, that he would continue his campaign for president and keep bringing the issues confronting his constituents to a national audience.

“I have challenged the war in Iraq,” he said, “a war based on lies that has taken the lives of 4,000 American soldiers and a million Iraqi civilians.”

The war, he said, will cost residents of his 10th Congressional District $1.2 billion by the end of 2008, money that should have been spent on health care, housing and education.

“We must end this war!” he said to thunderous applause. “I will do whatever I can to end this war.”

On another of his top issues, health care, he declared, “We must change the corrupt system of health insurance that is undermining the rights of the people. No one else has taken to the national stage the demand for a single-payer, not-for-profit system. That’s what matters to the people in the 10th District.”

Kucinich said he would stay in the presidential race until at least one other candidate calls for this, or for canceling the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has caused the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs.

“The corporate interests that I challenge 365 days a year are eager to gain advantage in the 10th District,” he charged. “These corporate interests are determined to do everything they can, raise millions of dollars if necessary, to gain this seat in Congress that belongs to you.”

“I am ready to take on this challenge, to fight for your seat in Congress, to counter any kind of dirty tricks” he said. “Working men and women will prevail.”

Kucinich’s chief opponent in the March 4 Democratic primary, Cleveland City Councilman Joseph Cimperman, has already raised $226,000. The Kucinich campaign charged the money has come from business groups and a right-wing pro-Israel group that is angry about Kucinich’s support for an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jimmy Dimora, Cuyahoga County Democratic Party chairman, bellowed out a call for all-out efforts to re-elect Kucinich, calling him “a fighter for the people.” Kucinich has been endorsed by both the Democratic Party and the AFL-CIO.

“We would have to search far and wide for a candidate who better represents the interests of working families,” said Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the Cleveland labor federation, “and we still wouldn’t find anyone who comes close. Kucinich represents the kind of politician that union members — like the general public — yearn for: one who stands up and fights for the needs of his constituents. It is an honor and a privilege to work for his re-election.”

Applegate said the federation would launch a campaign of phone-banking, letters and door-to-door canvassing along with a comprehensive worksite communication program.

“In a word, there is nothing we wouldn’t do for Dennis. That is why we are pulling out all the stops between now and March 4,” she said.