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Al Sharpton Says Election Results Make His Presidential Campaign ‘More Necessary’

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By Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent

Rev. Al Sharpton says the defeats that many Democrats suffered on Election Day expose the party’s flawed campaign strategy and proves that it must move in another direction in order to win elections.

“When you do an analysis of how the Democrats lost, they lost because they ran away from their base,” says Sharpton, who is exploring a possible run for president. “This whole decade-long reach for the Right-wing, or what they now call the independent White male vote, has been a hallucination. It energizes and makes my campaign more necessary.”
Sharpton has formed an exploratory committee and has begun raising money, but says he will not announce his decision until early next year. Some political analysts believe that he will not likely win the Democratic nomination, but could help the party revive its message to grassroots people and excite African-Americans to the polls if he decides to run as a Democrat. Jesse Jackson was able to do that in his presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988.
“If Sharpton is able to capitalize on the Democratic Party’s leadership and the confusion in the message and so forth, then that enhances what he’s trying to do because he believes the Democratic Leadership Council has taken the party to the right,” says University of Maryland political scientist Ron Walters, a former adviser for Jackson’s presidential bids. “He believes if he runs, he will pull the party back to the Left. This presents Al Sharpton with a golden opportunity to mount a campaign of political leverage inside the party, the same thing Jesse did.”
Sharpton says his issues will distinguish him from other Democrats.
Although a recent survey by the Joint Center on Political and Economic Studies says only 6 percent of African-Americans see the possibility of war against Iraq as a key concern, Sharpton says it will be a distinguishing issue for him.
“We’ll be the ones on the front line. Who will die first? And then when oil comes in, who will get less than us? And, who are in the major cities that are targeted in this war on terrorism? So war is a vital issue,” he says. “And I’m the only one talking about running who has come out against the war.”
Several Democrats who have been mentioned as possible presidential contenders voted with Bush to authorize the war, including Senators Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt.
Sharpton also said he will focus on those issues that are most important to Black people, such as jobs and the economy.
Ron Daniels, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and chairman of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, agrees Sharpton’s position on issues will be key.
“The Sharpton campaign becomes one of our most important vehicles for changing the Democratic party to have a focus and a message that will resonate with the majority of people in America, the struggling middle class, large numbers of people who are not registered and who don’t vote simply because they don’t hear themselves being talked to about issues like jobs and income and affirmative action and urban policy,” Daniels says. “He’s not trying to center himself, he will wage a crusading campaign…. He’s a dynamic spokesperson and he will elevate and put on the agenda issues that will not be discussed by the Democratic Party unless he runs.”
Not everyone agrees.
“I really want to say that Al is on to something there. But will the Democrats listen to him? I doubt it,” says Linda Faye Williams, also a political science professor at the University of Maryland. “The problem with Democrats is that they don’t appeal to the Black vote because they are more frightened of losing the White vote. That’s the bottom line. We’re sort of a date that you’re so proud of, yet you go to the back of the restaurant in a dark booth. That’s exactly how the Democrats want us to give our votes to them.”
African-Americans have been giving their votes to Democrats by a margin of 9-1. Williams worries that Sharpton’s appeal to Blacks will be limited.
“I’m glad that someone appeals to more working class Blacks,” she says. “But, I think that there are some of these middle-class Blacks that absolutely will not be energized by Al Sharpton. I think we need to sort of start looking a little bit more at what is becoming a kind of conscience class divide in the Black community.”
Sharpton hopes the middle- and upper-class Black supporters he has already enlisted will provide a broad-based appeal.
His exploratory committee and private supporters are comprised of big names in academia, political circles and the media. Among them are Cornell West, Princeton Black studies professor, and Charles Ogletree, Harvard law professor. Financial contributors to his exploratory campaign include Percy Sutton, a prominent New York civil rights lawyer; Cathy Hughes, owner and CEO of Radio One; Earl Graves Jr., founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine; and Robert L. Johnson, founder and CEO of Black Entertainment Television.
Some observers say Sharpton’s long-shot bid to become president is going against the tide of public opinion in Black America.
“The problem is that African-American public opinion is moving closer to the mainstream and to the Right. The radicalism in the African-American community has waned considerably,” says Katherine Tate, chair of the department of political science at the University of California at Irvine. “President Bush might even end up winning African-American support. He’s certainly made top-level appointments who are African-Americans. So, his administration is actually doing very well, all things considered.”
Only 9 percent of African-Americans voted for Bush in 2000. An October Gallup poll reported Bush with a 33 percent approval rating among African-Americans. It is not unusual for wartime presidents to have high approval ratings. The Black approval rating for George Bush’s father during the Persian Gulf War was 48.6 percent in October 1990, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. In early 1991, Gallup reported his approval rating as 91 percent overall. He lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.
Whatever Sharpton adopts will have an impact on Democrats.
“The DNC strategy for getting out the vote was Bill Clinton,” he says. “It’s almost like they’ve been joking so long about Clinton was a Black president, they started believing it. It’s one thing to joke. It’s another thing when they have a strategy like that for real.”

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