When the Democratic presidential candidates fought a fierce
battle in Iowa and New Hampshire, one man was conspicuously absent
— the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Sharpton skipped these early contests to focus his efforts on
South Carolina, which holds its primary today along with four other
states. While his competitors braved the subzero New England winter
to campaign in the Granite State last week, Sharpton, a Baptist
preacher from Brooklyn, N.Y., delivered sermons in South Carolina
churches to mostly black congregations. Despite his efforts,
Sharpton came in at 7 percent in a Zogby poll of South Carolina
primary voters released yesterday.

“He’s put forth considerable effort,” said
Dwight James, executive director of the South Carolina chapter of
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“He’s visited many communities around the state,
communities that other candidates have yet to touch. And I think
he’s indicated early on that South Carolina is of particular
importance to him.”

Before his presidential bid, Sharpton rose to prominence as an
activist in New York City. Under the tutelage of the Rev. Jesse
Jackson, Sharpton championed civil rights and protested police
brutality. In 1999, he led a march across the Brooklyn Bridge after
West African immigrant Amadou Diallo was shot to death by New York
City police officers who mistook Diallo’s wallet for a
weapon. Following Sharpton’s protests, the city moved the
officers’ trials from the Bronx upstate to Albany.

“I think (Sharpton) brings a level of legitimacy to some
of the issues that not only African Americans, but poor and working
Americans have in South Carolina…issues such as job
opportunities, certainly civil rights issues,” James
said.

Sharpton has built his platform on three constitutional
amendments proposed by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D–Ill.), the
son of Sharpton’s former mentor. The Constitution requires a
two-thirds supermajority in both houses and ratification by
three-fourths of the states to be amended.

“I’m running for president to make health care a
constitutional right. Not only do we need universal health care, we
need to give every American the right to health care, the right to
education, the right to vote. We don’t have those
constitutional rights,” Sharpton said in an Iowa debate last
May.

On the economic front, Sharpton has said he wants to rescind
President Bush’s tax cuts for high-income Americans and lower
taxes for the working class. To create jobs, he proposed a
five-year, $250 billion public works project that would fix
highways, bridges and tunnels.

Sharpton, like some other candidates, opposes the war on Iraq.
He has drawn parallels between Iraq and Vietnam and said the United
Nations should assume control of Iraq.

Sharpton finished in second place in the nonbinding District of
Columbia primary. The district will hold caucuses later this year
that will determine the allocation of delegates to the Democratic
National Convention. Sharpton’s competition included former
Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former Illinois Sen. Carol Mosley-Braun
and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. The advisory primary had a 16 percent
turnout. Sharpton’s strong showing in D.C. was attributed to
his call for D.C. statehood and the district’s black
majority.

Delaware, Oklahoma, Arizona and Missouri are also holding
primaries today while North Dakota and New Mexico are holding
caucuses. Democratic hopefuls are competing in the South, Midwest,
Southwest and East Coast in this vital test of cross-regional
appeal.

“If you sum up the impact of South Carolina and the other
states that are holding primaries tomorrow, you should get a pretty
reliable snapshot of some of the concerns that people have,”
James said.

In the Zogby poll, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts showed a
commanding lead in Arizona and in Missouri, which has more
delegates than any other state holding a primary today. Missouri
became a hotly contested state when Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri
exited the presidential race after the Iowa caucuses. Kerry and
retired Gen. Wesley Clark are in a dead heat in Oklahoma. Sen. John
Edwards of North Carolina retains a slim lead in South
Carolina.

Former frontrunner Howard Dean came in third or fourth in the
poll in all four states. The former Vermont governor still leads
the pack with 113 delegates, despite disappointing finishes in Iowa
and New Hampshire. But many of his endorsements come from
superdelegates — Democratic Party luminaries who vote on
their own behalf in the national convention. Dean’s lead may
rapidly vanish; 269 delegates are up for grabs in the contests
being held today. The former Vermont governor is concentrating his
efforts in states with later primary or caucus dates.

Joe Lieberman tried, but did not succeed with this strategy,
when he skipped Iowa to devote more of his time to New Hampshire,
where he finished in fifth place. The Connecticut senator won
endorsements from the South Carolina newspaper the State and the
Arizona Republic, the largest newspapers in their respective
states. But the endorsement of New Hampshire’s largest paper,
the Manchester Union Leader, failed to save Lieberman’s
electoral fortunes.

Sharpton trailed behind the pack in most of the states in the
Zogby poll. The Reverend is no stranger to electoral defeat. He
made two unsuccessful bids for the U.S. Senate in 1992 and 1994. He
also lost in the 1997 New York City mayoral race. Responding to the
prospects of defeat, Sharpton said, “Well eight of us are
going to lose. I don’t intend to be one of the losers, but if
I am, it ain’t like I’ll be alone.”

 

Democratic candidates ’04

Al Sharpton

Ordained minister, activist.

Civil rights:

  • A “human rights” platform proposing three
    constitutional amendments guaranteeing public education, of equal
    health care and the right to vote.

Economy

  • Repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and lower
    taxes for low-income citizens. Tute a five-year, $250 billion
    public works project.

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