- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

The Rev. Al Sharpton likened his presidential candidacy to a "wake-up call" for Democrats yesterday, rather than the nightmare feared by some party insiders.
"Sometimes when you are asleep, what you think is a nightmare may be a wake-up call," Mr. Sharpton told an audience on the third and last day of the Democratic National Committee's conference at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill to preview presidential contenders.
Mr. Sharpton, Democratic Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio and Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, cohesively denounced the Bush administration in general, but Mr. Edwards stepped out alone as the candidate in support of military action against Iraq.
Tossing off sound bites, Mr. Sharpton chided President Bush for his stance against the University of Michigan's affirmative action admissions policy and called him the most preferential president in history.
"He was the ultimate beneficiary of a set-aside program," Mr. Sharpton said. "The Supreme Court set aside a whole election."
In a preacher's bawl to frenzied supporters, Mr. Sharpton called the Republican-favored "trickle down" theory of economics "who-do voodoo economics."
"We never got the trickle; we got the down," he said.
Although inside party detractors have said Mr. Sharpton's past most notably his involvement in the bogus Tawana Brawley rape case eliminates him as a serious contender, the 48-year-old Pentecostal minister said "all politicians have baggage."
Mr. Kucinich, who shares a distaste for war with Iraq with Mr. Sharpton, took the podium to tepid applause.
He stressed that "the United Nations inspectors have not been able to prove that Iraq has useable weapons of mass destruction, but if they have any hidden, they are sure to be used against our invading troops."
In a speech that recalled that of fellow candidate former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean the day before, Mr. Kucinich reminded DNC members that party icons such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy "remade government for the people.
"And that kind of change is needed today."
On Friday, Mr. Dean beseeched his party "to stand for something."
Pushing his compassion for "regular Americans," Mr. Edwards spent most of his speech responding to what he called shortcomings of the Bush administration.
The freshman senator accused the president of catering to special interests, ignoring the medical needs of the elderly and sinking the economy with unsound fiscal policies.
"And so, I ask you, and I ask the American people, are you better off than you were two years ago?" Mr. Edwards asked. "In two short years, George W. Bush has taught us what the W stands for: 'wrong.' Wrong for our children, wrong for families, wrong for our values, wrong for America."
Mr. Edwards acknowledged his split with party consensus on war in Iraq, saying, "I know a lot of you here don't agree with me about this, but I believe Saddam Hussein has to be disarmed, including the use of military force."
The audience response was silence.
The committee's three-day meeting provided seven of the party's presidential hopefuls the opportunity to schmooze fund-raisers and primary campaign voters.
Four candidates spoke Friday: Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Mr. Dean and former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the eighth candidate in a field that could grow, is recovering from prostate cancer surgery and did not address the DNC.

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