Clearly, the likelihood of either of these two congressmen being nominated is roughly equivalent to my chances of starting at left tackle for the Ravens this season. Nor is either man even a viable contestant in the informal race to be tapped as their party's 2008 vice presidential nominee - as, say, Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico or former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas are.
Some of their positions place them outside the partisan mainstream, and their general demeanor is politely if aptly described as "quirky."
With the televised debates in both crowded fields looking more like electoral speed-dating, accommodating Ohio's Mr. Kucinich and Texas' Mr. Paul on stage seems like a regrettable inefficiency, a nuisance nursed to life and sustained purely by dint of each man's vanity.
But there is a case to be made for their inclusion, even their necessity, and that case boils down to a single issue in which thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars are at stake: Iraq. As both parties' candidates struggle to find answers to the mess in Iraq, Mr. Kucinich and Mr. Paul are holding their fellow partisans to account for their positions and statements, past and present, and for their proposed solutions.
Indeed, when it comes to the war, the sixth-term, 60-year-old Democrat and his 10th-term, 71-year-old Republican colleague sound very similar.
"I have been one of the strongest opponents of military action against Iraq," Mr. Paul said during the floor debate over one recent legislative proposal to start pulling the troops back. "I voted against the initial authorization in 2002, and I have voted against every supplemental appropriations bill to fund the war. I even voted against the initial 'Iraq regime change' legislation back in 1998. I believe our troops should be brought back to the United States without delay."
At almost every opportunity, Mr. Kucinich also reminds listeners that he was the only Democratic candidate to vote against the war and appropriating subsequent funds to continue it - a statement clearly intended to contrast himself with, if not partially embarrass, his fellow Democrats. (Barack Obama of Illinois spoke out against the war in autumn 2002 but was not yet in the Senate; all the others were either not in Congress or voted for the October 2002 resolution or subsequent war appropriations measures.)
"We shouldn't offer another piece of legislation that would appropriate money for the war," Mr. Kucinich, echoing Mr. Paul, told the audience at a June conference sponsored by the liberal Campaign for America's Future. "We need to tell the president right now that the occupation will come to an end, the troops will be brought home, the bases will be closed, the contractors must be brought back."
It's easy to dismiss as reckless the statements of these war opponents. But at least their positions have the benefit of consistency: If you oppose the war and think it is going badly, they insist, then vote against it.
Their critique carries a different subtext for Democrats and Republicans, however. Mr. Kucinich's roughly translates as, "Democrats who vote for the war's continuation while mouthing dissatisfaction to score political points are hypocrites." What Mr. Paul is saying is, "Republicans who vote to perpetuate the war while blathering about supporting the troops who would undoubtedly be safer at home just to score political points are hypocrites."
A recent national poll shows Mr. Kucinich and Mr. Paul at 3 percent and 2 percent, respectively, among their party's primary voters. Their electoral problems go well beyond electability to near-invisibility. They are treated like novelty items, to be picked up momentarily, puzzled over and put back on a shelf.
But in a country where majorities think the war was a mistake, has not been worth it, has aggravated terrorism risks for the country and needs to end, is it a bad thing to have two quirky gadflies who hold their colleagues to account for the biggest policy fiasco in decades?
Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears Wednesdays in The Sun. His e-mail is email@example.com.